by Jesse Holth –
After taking a hiatus in 2018, the Annual Yellow Wolf Intertribal Powwow is returning to the Saanich Peninsula. From August 2 to 4, this special celebration will mark the 25th powwow held in honour of Alice Mary Moody Sampson. “We decided to honour her by hosting this annual family event on the B.C. Day long weekend,” says Alice’s daughter, Angel Sampson. She explains that her mother, Nez Perce from Ahsahka, Idaho, moved here when she married their father, Francis Sampson. “Our mom gave up all of her teachings, traditions and cultural practices,” she says, “and lived according to her father’s cultural ways and traditions, the Coast Salish of Saanich (SÁNEĆ) territory.” Alice even became fluent in the Saanich (SENĆOŦEN) language.
“After my dad passed away, [my mom] would take me home to Idaho where I was introduced to powwow dancing.” The family decided to hold an annual powwow over 25 years ago. “We wanted people to know some of our mom’s ways that she gave up when she moved here.” Originally called by their mother’s traditional name, Wetanmay (pronounced Wu-tawnt-my), the Wetanmay Intertribal Powwow went on for a number of years, until Angel’s brother John asked if they could change the name to Yellow Wolf. “Yellow Wolf is my son’s traditional name,” explains Angel. “He was given this name by my grandmother on my mother’s side.” Yellow Wolf was her grandmother’s brother, and cousin to Chief Joseph, who fought for the freedom and territory of the Nez Perce in Idaho in the late 1800’s. “Yellow Wolf was an amazing warrior who fought against the U.S. government when they were trying to put the Nez Perce onto reserves.”
Now called the Yellow Wolf Intertribal Powwow, people come from all over to attend the event. “We have participants [from] B.C., Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” says Angel, who is the coordinator for the powwow. “We have [even] had visitors from [other parts of] the world, places like Switzerland, Germany, England, Asia, Colorado, California, and so many other places.” She says the visitor feedback is very positive, and they have received many compliments on the cultural event.
Powwows are important social celebrations, where people meet together in song, dance and friendship. They are a way to honour each other. Angel says the family gathering is “a very social time,” adding that “you will get to witness powwow singing, drumming and dancing.” These kinds of events are especially meaningful today – there has been a long history of cultural suppression against First Nations here and elsewhere. Ceremonies and gatherings like powwows and potlatches were banned through various legislations enacted by the U.S. and Canada in the 1800s, up until at least 1951. Cultural practices like singing, dancing and other celebrations were prohibited, and many traditions were lost. The work to revitalize and preserve these practices, rituals and knowledge is ongoing. Angel says: “We are [always] open to anyone wanting to volunteer at our event.”
There will be many activities held at the Yellow Wolf Powwow, including a dance competition for the youth (18 and under), adult dance categories, and fun events for visitors to participate in. There will also be “vendors selling all kinds of wares,” says Angel, including “First Nations art and craft vendors and non-First Nations too.” A variety of events take place at the powwow: memorials, where pictures of people who have passed away are shown; namings, where people receive a traditional name; ceremonies and giveaways for people wanting to join the powwow circle; and there have even been weddings held. “We have our traditional foods for sale in our concession, plus some Western fare as well,” says Angel. The event will take place at the Tsawout Gymnasium at 7728 Tetayut Road in Saanichton. “We are wheelchair accessible, and have camping available for those who want to stay for the whole weekend.” She says there are also showers available for the guests, and their committee provides a breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings, “for those who wish to join us for a meal to start the day.”
For more information, or to volunteer, you can reach Angel