A History of The Chippewas Of Rama First Nation Powwow

As far back as we can remember the Chippewas of Rama First Nation has been a meeting place for visitors. We are a community that is known for its hospitality; from the earliest explorers, to the fall fairs in the 1920’s. From the powwow under the big tent at the Rama Ball Field, to the competition powwows at the MASK arena, our community continues to enjoy being a host to the several guests who frequent our community on a daily basis.

In the early 1970’s there was no song and dance happening in Rama First Nation and no sign of local powwows in the surrounding area.  Emerson Benson, Co-founder of the Chippewas of Rama First Nation Thanksgiving Powwow, was working at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto and had been surrounded by drumming and dancing on a weekly basis. Being inspired to bring back tradition in his own community, he said “I’m from the area, there’s nothing going on, so hey let’s try it”.

Emerson also recalls how Rama had always been noted for its hospitality. In 1977, with the support of Rama First Nation band members, the community held its first annual Thanksgiving Powwow at Victoria Park. “It was a real community event [and] there was a lot of volunteerism at that time.” For generations people have gathered at Rama particularly in the autumn or harvest months to celebrate, socialize, eat, and have fun together. The following year, the entire community got involved in what was then a non-competition powwow held every Thanksgiving weekend. The Old Mall, which now houses Casino Rama Administrative Offices, Victoria Park, the ball field at Rama, and also the Orillia Roller Skating Place were all used as venues for the annual powwow.

In 1986, the Rama Powwow again made another transformation as a result of a ‘Social Recreation Needs Assessment’ (SNRA) which began in 1983 and extended into 1985. The community was canvassed in what was referred to as ‘Kitchen Dialogue’ by former Chief Ted Williams who held leadership during this time. This was where members of the SRNA committee went to each household to ask a series of questions and sit in the kitchen (a place of comfort) to discuss the people’s dreams and aspirations that they had for the community. “Many of the success’s we find we have today have come from these kitchen table discussions.” relates Ted Williams, “Powwow was part of that talk and some members of the community built on this”. James Simcoe and Emerson Benson were both prominent and influential in rejuvenating the powwow at the time.

Over the years, Rama First Nation has witnessed an expediential growth of the powwow, which was once mainly a small event where about a dozen community veterans would attend along with guests from Walpole, Wiky, Sarnia, and even Milwaukee. Now a competition powwow, the event has grown substantially, hosting between 3000 – 5000 visitors each year. It is an honour to have so many guests visit Rama to partake in the event which has been part of the community’s culture for several decades and continues to evolve. Had it not been for the indomitable will of a few individuals in the 1970’s, we would not be celebrating so many years of powwow at the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.

The Chippewas of Rama First Nation 2016 Powwow will take place on August 20th and 21st at the John Snake Memorial Multi-Purpose Grounds located at 6030 Rama Road, Rama, Ontario. The community celebrated the unveiling of the grounds in honour of John Snake, Rama’s Cultural Coordinator for many years, who was instrumental in the early planning stages for the site. For more details contact the Chippewas of Rama Culture and Research Department at (705) 325-3611 or email benc@ramafirstnation.ca. Miigwech (“Thank you”).

Competition Powwow:

A dance and drum contest event for prizes. These powwows give dancers and singers the opportunity to be the best that they can be, much like the Olympics. Categories for dance contests are determined by age and dance style. Rama First Nation recognizes all tiny tots (0-5) as winners. As such, we do not have a competition for them. Instead, they receive an honourarium for their participation and are encouraged for their interest in dancing as a leisure activity. Any dancers who do not wish to enter into contests are still welcome participants during all intertribal songs.

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