Capilano University will host its first powwow this week thanks to the efforts of a 21-year-old film student.
Dolly Reno, who is in her second year at the North Vancouver school, has been working for months to organize the traditional First Nations celebration. Those efforts will come to fruition Thursday morning when performers and participants from across the Lower Mainland descend on the university for five hours of drumming, dancing and a feast.
“What (a powwow) celebrates can be anything, really — a marriage, someone coming of age, maybe somebody becoming chief,” said Reno. “In this case, it’s a welcoming, a welcome back for students.”
The public event is designed to be inclusive, she said.
“The feast is always free and open to everybody, because we’re supposed to be sharing this experience and sharing in the meal,” said Reno. “It’s really about bringing people together.”
Reno, the First Nations Liaison for the Capilano Students’ Union and a member of the Maritimes’ Mi’kmaq Nation, got the idea for the powwow while organizing a less ambitious educational event.
“I was planning a pretty standard speaker series and panels and maybe having people come and perform who were of First Nations descent, spoken word artists, just kind of anything like that,” she said. “I don’t know if I should be saying this, but it was kind of a yawn planning it; it just seemed so typical, and I wasn’t learning as much as I thought I was going to.”
Then one night, Reno had an “epiphany,” she said.
“I just said: ‘Why don’t I just bring our culture to the campus? Instead of just talking about it, let’s do something where everyone can participate.’”
What followed was 10 weeks or more of intense preparation.
“There was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like work,” said Reno. “I’m averaging four hours of sleep a night.”
The event will include the elements of a traditional powwow — hours of drumming and singing and performances by dancers in a wide range of categories followed by a feast — but with an added dimension intended to ensure it’s “newcomer friendly,” as Reno put it.
“I asked the master of ceremonies, Jerry Peters, if he could do it in a more educational fashion,” she said. “He will just take a little bit more time while introducing each part to explain what it is. . . . It gives everybody a chance to learn about something that maybe they haven’t had a chance to learn about, or to experience something they haven’t had a chance to experience.”
The university has been hugely supportive, she said, and she hopes it will become an annual event. The powwow’s long-awaited arrival is bittersweet, however.
“I’m really excited for it to happen on Thursday,” said Reno. “I’m trying not to think about how much I’m going to miss planning it after it’s done.”
The Capilano University powwow kicks off at 11 a.m. Thursday outside the main entrance to the school’s Birch Building at 2055 Purcell Way. The campus is readily accessible by transit, and admission to the event is free.
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