Jess McMann of Wild Mint Arts found healing and a sense of belonging through powwow dancing. Now she’s teaching local indigenous children to dance and welcoming them to perform opening acts for her upcoming show, Nimihitowin!, which is a Cree word for dancing in celebration.
“I’m adopted so my first introduction to culture was through powwow dance class. Through powwow, it connected me to culture, to my birth family, to where I’m from in Saskatchewan,” she said.
As a child she was so shy that she kept her eyes fixed on the ground or hidden behind her hair. She said she didn’t feel like she fit in with her family and didn’t know who she was. But everything changed when she started powwow dancing.
“Seeing other Indigenous women who were strong and confident and could speak and dance and have their heads up, that really drew me in,” she said. “It showed me that I could be somebody different and I didn’t have to go through life like this, and it transformed me.”
Now that she’s become a similarly courageous woman, she’s on a mission to inspire others through dance. Ms. McMann, who lives in Calgary, started powwow dancing when she was 14 and has never stopped. Now an instructor too, she wants to offer her students the healing she found in dance.
“For me it’s about empowering the youth and people who are adopted or have been in foster care and never had that access (to their culture), and this is a great starting point to start to feel proud about themselves and where they come from,” she said. “I really tribute this powwow and our traditions to helping me become who I am now, and I want to offer that to all these indigenous youth and adults too.”
Powwow dance can be healing not only for individuals but also for society, she said, adding that dance helps build connections between the audience and the performers and that anyone is welcome to stick around after the show to chat with her.
“It’s important in this act of reconciliation that everybody has a chance to experience in some form our traditional culture because it is so powerful to change lives,” she said. “I’d like people to see the beauty and strength in it.”
Besides being good medicine for everyone’s souls, she said the show is also heaps of fun.
In addition to hoop dancing, fancy shawl, jingle dress, partner dancing and Metis jigging, Nimihitowin! will also include hiphop dance, UV lights and flashes of glow sticks.
“I wanted to make it relevant to what we do today,” she said. “It makes it come alive maybe in a different way if people can’t relate to the traditional stuff.”
Your invitation to Nimihitowin!
Everyone is invited to attend the Nimihitowin! show at the Columbia Valley Centre on Friday, November 1st.
Admission is free for members of the Secwepemc, Ktunaxa and Metis nations and for children five and under. Admission is otherwise $10 for adults and $5 for those aged six to 19.
Doors open at 6 p.m. with fry bread tacos for sale. The show will begin at 7 p.m..
Students from Edgewater Elementary School – called the Eagle Spirit Dancers – and students from J. A. Laird Elementary School will perform opening acts before Ms. McMann and her troupe take the floor.