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  • TJ Warren is performing a pow wow dance at the Indigenous Arts Festival in Toronto today.

    One thing I learned from different cultures is that we are the same, you know. We celebrate the same way.
    It might not be the same song, it might not be the same dance, it might not be the same materials or the way we dress, but we all do it for the same purpose: to celebrate life.
    Whether it be celebrating a particular animal or relating to nature, it's all about life. That's what these pow wow dances represent.

    Pow wow is a form of gathering of different tribes and nations. They all have styles and dances they share too. My style of dances mimics those prairie chickens in the early springtime. So they have a courtship dance these prairie chickens do. These male prairie chickens will come out to the middle of this gathering and they will strut around, they will ruffle, and they do all of this to try to capture the attention of the female. This dance is kind of a mating dance of those prairie chickens. That's what I mimic when I dance.

    As First Nations people, a lot of our dances are relationships to maybe times of seasons or particular animals like the prairie chicken.

    TJ elaborates on how dances are passed down from Elders and grandfathers through various ceremonies and rituals. He refers to his outfit as a regalia instead of calling it a costume because that usually alludes to Halloween and these garments have cultural significance. They take great pride in wearing them. He goes on to show me the different parts of his regalia such as the deer tails that have been tied in bundles and dyed in different colours.

    As a prairie chicken dancer, we wear a bustle on the backside that kind of relates to the tail of a bird. Our regalia have stories of their own and so if you were to pick a piece of my regalia, I could tell you a story about what that represents and its history. So as a dancer sometimes we belong to different societies and so we will wear something that correlates to that. Things that we carry sometimes represents a style of dance, whether it was a warrior's dance, or a dance from peace times. All these different types of regalia that we wear, these different ornaments represent different times but also fit into the guideline of that particular style. Sometime we will wear a head roach made of porcupine hair on top. Sometimes we will wear eagle feathers or pheasant tails, different types of feathers that we wear. We have bead work that's very dominant on a dancer's regalia and you will see the cuffs and headband, the choker tie, the belt, the leggings, the moccasins, those are all bead work too. All of these different things kind of tells you what the dancer is dancing or where they come from.

    For my people, for my nation, for my tribe, I dance with this otter, this water animal, to bring that good fortune of rain to my people.

    TJ's generosity in sharing these stories reminds me how First Nations people have a rich culture of passing down their traditional knowledge through oral history. By telling their stories, they keep their heritage alive and preserve their cultures.

    At Fort York, Toronto.
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