Walking into a powwow as a traditional dancer and part of the grand entry for the first time while clad in regalia she made herself, Sharon Rigby lived what she calls the most momentous occasion of her life.
Her mother and family were there to watch, and Rigby felt her small steps take her back to a culture and way of life taken from her family. They are steps she will continue to take as she performs traditional dance at the Collingwood change of seasons gathering later this month.
"Traditional women would dance along the outside of the powwow, they took their spots along the edges, and I feel like traditional dancing is very much a representation of how I felt as a child growing up," said the mother of five. "I was not really participating in my culture, and not really aware of the full extent of my heritage. But when the traditional women were invited into the powwow to dance, I feel that's my reconnection right there. Going from the outside in."
Rigby, formerly a Barrie resident who recently moved to Caledon, is of Haudensaunee and Anishnaabe heritage from the Akwesasne and Nipissing First Nations. Her grandmother is a residential school survivor who fled the reserve, dyed her hair blonde, and told her children they were Spanish. Rigby's mother was taken from her family during the 60s Scoop.
"I'm the first one in three generations to have been raised by my mom, and to grow up knowing I'm Indigenous," said Rigby.
She has been dancing for about a year and has been actively working to reconnect with her culture for about two years. That included taking the Indigenous community and social development program at Georgian College. It was, therefore, apt that the first powwow she danced in was at Georgian College.
"It feels good to reconnect, and to take back what my family has lost through the years," said Rigby. "There are so many different organizations and groups that are providing the pathways to learn and understand and to come back to our roots, and the Collingwood Indigenous Circle is a great representation of that."
The circle was founded by Muckpaloo Ipeelie, who, together with a team of co-organizers, started the change of seasons gatherings last year in Collingwood at the Awen Gathering Place. The circle gets support from the Town of Collingwood for the quarterly gatherings, which welcome Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for a time of ceremony, teaching, sharing and celebration.
"They're so gracious and generous with reaching out to the community and working with the community to share what we know, and what we can help others learn," said Rigby.
In addition to performing during the gathering, Rigby will be speaking about traditional dance and regalia.
Traditional dancers use small steps, explained Rigby. "And we always keep one foot connected to the ground."
"We have a slow, measured pace, and I feel that, again, just represents my life, taking things slowly, learning slowly," said Rigby.
Ipeelie said she's excited to have Rigby performing traditional dance, and also Ode’imin Kwe performing jingle dress dance, both will be firsts for the local change of seasons events.
"We're excited to have the second fall equinox gathering, and more and more people have been coming," said Ipeelie.
She noted this will be the first time the event will feature a female knowledge keeper. Sheila Robson, a knowledge keeper from Neyaashiinigming (Cape Croker) will be speaking during the Sept. 24 event.
There will be food to share as well, something Ipeelie said is important at Indigenous gatherings as so many cultural celebrations include sharing a meal together. Staff and youth volunteers from Collingwood Youth Centre will make Three Sisters soup with bannock. Ipeelie and fellow change of seasons ceremony organizer Jennifer McFarlane visited the youth centre this week to give a lesson on bannock making.
The change of seasons gathering takes place Sunday, Sept. 24 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Awen Gathering Circle in Harbourview Park at the north end of Cedar Street.
All are welcome to attend. Anyone participating in the gathering is asked to engage respectfully, and to honour the requests of the hosts regarding photographs and knowledge sharing.
There will be a raffle draw for attendees who come wearing an item that is Indigenous-made.
A gift of thanks is welcomed and can include the medicines of tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass, as well as tea or coffee.
There is no cost to participate, visit CollingwoodIndigenousCircle.ca for more details.
You can find Sharon Rigby's artist page on Instagram @artistsharonrigby.