Competitive powwow coming to Calgary Stampede, thanks to Alberta couple

For the first time in its 110-year history, the Calgary Stampede will host a competitive powwow this summer, when dancers from across North America will show off their talents.

The event will run July 12-14 at the Saddledome, featuring different dance styles, drummers and singers.

Up for grabs: $175,000 in prizes.

“The Stampede Powwow joins other world-class competitions held annually at the Stampede and offers guests another opportunity to experience Indigenous programming,” Shannon Murray, manager of Indigenous engagement at the Calgary Stampede, said in a statement.

“The Calgary Stampede features some of the best competitors in western events, including rodeo and chuckwagon racing, so it only makes sense that we are now bringing the best competitors in powwow to this year’s Calgary Stampede.”

The event is being produced by the president and vice-president of Powwow Times, Patrick and Marrisa Mitsuing. The husband and wife have produced competitive powwows across the province for the past 15 years and are also competitive dancers themselves.

“We’re just really, really excited to show all of our non-Indigenous relatives the beauty and the richness of the culture,” Marrisa said in an interview with the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

Daughter of residential school survivors

Powwow wasn’t always a part of Marrisa’s life.

As the daughter of residential school survivors, she didn’t grow up with the ceremonies, songs and language of her Indigenous ancestors. 

Patrick helped Marrisa to reconnect to her Indigenous roots when they met, because unlike many Indigenous people in Canada, he has always had a connection to his culture.

He grew up on the Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, about 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, Sask. 

“When they started taking children for residential schools, our grandparents hid all the children in the bush,” he said.

“If you ever go back to my reservation, you’ll see that a lot of cultures, ceremonies, languages [are] still intact.”

Powwows would happen regularly throughout the First Nation’s history, Patrick said, despite being illegal until 1951, when the Indian Act was changed to allow First Nations people to continue their traditional ceremonies.

Patrick would attend powwows every summer growing up, and when he met Marrisa, they became a part of her life, too. 

Reconnecting with traditions

One of the most exciting aspects of producing the event for the Calgary Stampede, the couple said, is helping other Indigenous people reconnect to their traditions.

“This is a bridge for Indigenous people to step into their culture if they’ve been having a hard time,” he said.

“I know a lot of families that I meet still have the effects of residential schools where they’re disconnected from their culture, they’re disconnected from language, and this is a … first step in learning about who they are, and that, to me, that’s amazing.”

The duo also wants to bring the beauty of powwow to non-Indigenous audiences.

The prairie chicken dance

Of the many categories of dances attendees will see, the Mitsuings think the “men’s chicken” will be the most popular. 

“When the prairie chicken is looking for a mate, they do this dance,” Patrick said. 

“So this is a dance about love and a dance about companionship … and it originated in southern Alberta, and it spread throughout cow country, throughout North America, becoming one of the most popular dances on the powwow trail.”

With just three months to go, the couple is busily preparing to make the event one to remember.

“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m happy, and I just can’t wait,” Patrick said.

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