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Virtual powwow brings community together

COVID-19 this year canceled Nipissing First Nation’s annual traditional event as well as Little NHL 2020 and 2021

The beat of the drum, dancing, and good vibrations brought Nipissing First Nation and all their relations together for a virtual powwow on the weekend.

Organized by the Nipissing Cultural Centre, the event was run with COVID-19 restrictions under a controlled environment at the roofed outdoor rink in Garden Village. It was live-streamed to YouTube for 2.5 hours Saturday afternoon and by Monday there were 1,500 views. Live chat comments came from community members in their homes and across Ontario, Michigan, the Canadian prairies, and into the United States.

Bob Goulais was master of ceremonies and Perry McLeod-Shabogesic lead elder, with the long-time friends playing co-hosts who blended relevance and humour throughout.

“Having the powwow outside is always better,” he said, describing how it’s one of the few times where the entire community comes together.

“At the same time, if you were out of town or something and missed the traditional powwow, you missed it,” McLeod-Shabogesic said. “This way, you can check it out whenever you want.”

“It’s a first for us,” he said, noting that Mindy Martel-Lariviere was instrumental in making sure it came together and Sara Cornthwaite did a great job producing the live stream.

“Sara made it flow really well,” he said of his niece, a videographer who has been on assignment in Africa, South America, and across North America.

Related story: Sara Cornthwaite creating content for the world to see

“I wasn’t sure what to expect, Bob and I just winged it and it was a whole lot of fun,” he said, adding he felt like Ed McMahon on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Juanita Macleod and Antonio Dinardo Jr. were the head dancers while Burning Plains served as host drum while more than a dozen dancers took turns. Jason Nakogee was veteran and the firekeeper was Ian Campeau.

The theme was: Don’t Forget About Our Bundles - Gaan Niikesii Mshikikii Aabjikan.

Alex Williams was technical director, Steve Commanda tech support, and Charles Fiado camera operations with music mastered by Josh McLeod. Credit for the virtual powwow vision went to Katelynn Goulais.


Bob Goulais said they needed to adapt to the circumstances and a powwow was a much-needed Plan B after not holding other events this year.

“There’s no greater time to come together as a community and find some time to tell stories, laugh, sing, and dance,” he said. “A powwow is our way to celebrate life – even if it means we adapt a little bit and come together virtually.

“I’ll take a virtual powwow over TikTok any day,” Goulais said.

Cornthwaite said she couldn’t have done the tech side of things without Martel-Lariviere’s powwow knowledge.

“We worked together as a team in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, it was her team that dreamed up the concept and hired me,” she said. “I was so grateful to work alongside Mindy who pushed this idea from the beginning, her passion and heart made it come to life.”

Cornthwaite said everybody worked hard to create something unique.

“We filmed dancers a few weeks prior so we could have some pre-recorded content, this also included filming our singers/drummers so there was music.

“On the day of the event, I ran the live stream and she ran the pow wow. She is amazing and this would not have happened at all without her - she led the way,” Cornthwaite said, adding it was a fulfilling experience for her.

"This is probably one of my favorite projects yet. To take everything I've learned over the past 10 years and apply it to my community was the ultimate full-circle moment,” she said.

“To me, the project was bigger than just a live stream. It was about connecting our community for ceremony and laughter in a time where social distancing has kept us apart,” she said, adding the co-hosts were instrumental.

“Bob and Perry did a phenomenal job of bringing in humor and knowledge, they were the heart of the day and it would not have been the same without them. It was a joy to partake and the highlight of my 2020."

Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Reporter with LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Dale

About the Author: Dave Dale

Dave Dale is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who covers the communities along the Highway 17 corridor Mattawa to West Nipissing. He is based out of BayToday
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