Okanagan College’s 12th Annual Youth Exhibition Powwow Goes Virtual

When the pandemic struck, organizers of the popular Youth Exhibition Powwow at Okanagan College in Kelowna knew they would have to adapt.

Each year, for the past 11 years, the event has drawn crowds of hundreds – sometimes more than a thousand – to OC’s courtyard for a day of celebrating, learning about, and engaging with Indigenous knowledge and culture.

Over the course of a fun-filled day, dancers and accompanying drummers from across the B.C. interior perform in a variety of dance categories including grass, fancy, chicken, jingle, and traditional.

Event organizer Jessica MacDonald knew translating that vibrant and energetic expression of Indigenous culture into a virtual format wouldn’t be easy. However, after reaching out to communities across the region and the province, she says she was heartened by the response.

“Given that many people are grappling with the challenges of working, learning and caring for family members at home during the pandemic, the decision was made to produce a short video about Powwow this year – which people can watch any time and in snippets – rather than attempt to host a lengthy live stream,” says MacDonald, who works as an Aboriginal Transitions Planner at Okanagan College.

“Dancers from all over responded that they would still like to participate by submitting videos,” she adds. “We are really excited and grateful that we can still gather together to watch it online and take this opportunity to showcase, celebrate, and enjoy Indigenous dancing, drumming, and culture in this way.”

Youth have always made up a vast segment of the audience, with hundreds of students from various private, band, and public schools traveling hours, or in some cases, making a quick trip across the street, to attend. Under regular circumstances, Powwow falls on the equinox, and as such the event has become a fall fixture for many teachers – and a unique way to offer their students a chance for real-world learning.

“The format is different, but we hope it still conveys the warmth, energy, and excitement of attending and participating in Powwow. We hope students and teachers will still enjoy watching and come away knowing more about Indigenous culture than they might have before. We hope it will still generate conversations, still spark questions, and build a sense of connection in the ways that Powwow always has.”

The video can be viewed on the College’s Powwow page:

As MacDonald notes, producing the video was very much a team and a community effort.

Viewers will spot welcome messages from Christopher Derickson, Chief of Westbank First Nation, Colin Basran, Mayor of Kelowna, Gloria Morgan, Chair of Okanagan College’s Board of Governors, and Jim Hamilton, President of Okanagan College.

“It’s been wonderful to watch the many ways in which Powwow has grown and evolved over the past eleven years,” says Hamilton. “This event continues to engage more and more people in important discussions about Indigenous knowledge and culture – and that hasn’t changed this year, even if the format has.”

“While we’re saddened we can’t welcome visitors to our campus for Powwow in person, I applaud the organizers for seizing this opportunity to still find creative ways to celebrate Indigenous dancing, drumming, singing, art and storytelling,” adds Hamilton.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank all the Elders for sharing your wisdom and experience with us again this year, although in a virtual way. I also want to thank the dancers and drummers for sharing your energy and talents with us. Finally, I want to thank everyone who takes the time to watch the videos and participate in this important cultural event.”

Another person viewers will hear from in the video is Richard Jackson Jr., an Elder with the Lower Nicola Indian Band who is serving as Powwow MC, albeit virtually this year, for the twelfth year.

Click here to watch a recorded interview with Jackson about Powwow history and etiquette.

Livestreams from previous years’ events have also been posted to the page, for those looking for the full Powwow experience.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, members of the OC community are invited to join many others across Canada in observing Orange Shirt Day. The annual event was founded to help raise awareness about the inter-generational impacts of Residential Schools in Canada and to support reconciliation events and activities.

“We’re encouraging the OC community to join us in wearing orange on September 30 to recognize the residential school experience, to honour the healing journey of survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation,” says MacDonald.

More information on Orange Shirt Day can be found at

Original article from Okanagan College