Chapter 6: PEI’s Aboriginal Community: A Mi’Kmaq PowWow

If you are in PEI during the month of August, you are cordially invited to the Abegweit First Nation’s PowWow in Panmure Island on the south side of PEI. This spiritual/cultural event attracts visitors each year from Eastern Canada and the New England states.

Panmure Island

Panmure Island                            Photo: Government of PEI

It was a hot August day; a day when our Island Mi’kmaq community was hosting their annual PowWow. I felt trepidation entering this area of sacred ceremony. In all the years I have lived on this Island I had never attended a PowWow ; not one. I worried I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the occasion. I need not fear. This was a day of celebration. Cars were parked in a grassy clearing in an official parking space in the woods. I slid out the passenger side and was immediately embraced with hot, humid and breathless air in the spruce enclosed thicket.


Ladies preparing for the ceremonial dance. Photo: ELR

I felt honored to be included… included in this day (weekend) of celebrations. Looking about I witnessed Mi’kmaq dress in various degrees. I didn’t understand. I wanted to understand what the beautiful dress attire meant – whether a beautiful decorated dress on a female or a grand headdress on a male warrior. Needless to say…I was in awe. And I had a lot to learn! ********************************

A Moment in Time

So …I sat and watched…and listened. When allowed… I took pictures, all too aware I wasn’t to intrude at various times during their celebration. There was a time for pictures…and a time to just sit and be present…and to breathe, listen, and be aware of the sacred ceremony taking place. The dancers came in all shapes and sizes from the very young to the elderly. A common theme was their pride in their dance and their ceremony. I was moved as a witness to this professional demonstration of pride in their culture.


The ceremonial dance – this dress jingled as she danced.        Photo:  ELR

male dancers

A male dancer proudly wearing his ceremonial dress. Photo: ELR

A typical Mi’Kmaq PowWow begins with the ‘Sacred fire’ ceremony on the first day and setup of the grounds and exhibitors. The following day(s), traditional and inter-tribal performances and dances are performed throughout the afternoons. On the last day there are the traditional dances and ends with a PowWow feast (usually with Maritime Lobster as the main dish) and a closing ceremony. ************************************************************************************************* I felt at home here. (‘Here’ – is Panmure Island with the sheltered St. Mary’s Bay on one side and an ocean beach on the other). The Chief welcomed us and made me feel at home. I wasn’t a stranger. I loved the sights, the music, and the distant beat of drums as a group of young men in a drum band practiced. There was a contagious feeling of community and belonging. They are such a proud people. And I loved their ceremonial dress. It was indescribable…the time…the talent…and the history behind each ceremonial dress.

cermonial dress

An elder in full ceremonial dress.  Photo:  ELR

I was chastised for calling their beautiful dress…a ‘costume’. Kudos to an elder…for setting me straight- one of those times when I wished my ‘filter’ was engaged. It was not. I apologized. My earlier trepidation upon arrival had now returned.



A wee girl dressed for the occasion caught my attention. She posed gracefully so I could capture her and her dress perfectly. No more than 3 or 4 years old, she is already embracing her heritage and pride in her Mi’kmaq culture.


A beautiful little girl displaying her ceremonial dress. Photo: ELR

little girl cropped

Photo: ELR

Booths are set up with an array of wares. Handmade accessories; ladies and men’s ceremonial and traditional Mi’Kmaq dresses and suits; musical instruments including authentic drums; children’s toys and a booth selling bear grease – something for everyone! I choose to buy a leather bracelet with a peace symbol; one of my favorite things.


Booths displaying everything from clothing, toys, and accessories.     Photo: ELR


Beautiful traditional Mi’kmaq clothing.                                             Photo: ELR


Bear Grease. Drum makers use Bear grease as a moisturizer   claiming it will keep the drum hide flexible and vibrant.      Photo: ELR

A traditional Teepee was erected on the site – a nod to their history and a clear demonstration the Island’s Mi’kmaq communities wish to preserve and pass on a part of their heritage and tradition. Historically the family teepee bison skin covers were richly painted and drawn upon. This teepee was adorned with powerful wolves howling to a large moon and the eagle, a Mi’kmaq sacred symbol soaring overhead. (For the Indigenous people the wolf signified strength, endurance, and Instinct linked with intelligence and family values and the eagle symbolizes courage wisdom and strength).


A traditional Teepee.                                                                  Photo: ELR

The afternoon passed quickly and soon the sun was turning the orangy red color of early evening and the unmistakable high pitched buzz of mosquitoes could be heard. Reluctantly we took leave of this happy celebration promising to return another year.


Wela’lin – Thank you for the honor and for inviting me to share your celebration!


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