PHOTO: Danielle Da Silva 

PHOTO: Danielle Da Silva 

Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion and honour
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
— Ojibway prayer
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Believe it or not, the last federally-funded residential school in Canada was shut down as recently as 1996. Funded by the Canadian government's Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches, Canada's residential school system was a network of far-flung boarding schools intended to remove First Nations children from their parents/communities and thus the influence of their own culture. Well in place before Confederation in 1867, the system became official after the Indian Act passed in 1876, and in 1884 an amendment to the Indian Act made attendance at these schools compulsory for First Nations children. Many now describe this as a "cultural genocide," whereby First Nations cultures were systematically exterminated by depriving children of their ancestral languages, beliefs, and their rights as humans. More than 6,000 children died while reports/stories of sexual abuse are rife. The end result has been mass transgenerational trauma that manifests in various ways including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide and substance abuse.

It was in 1961 that band member Rosemary Odjig raised the tradition of the "pow wow" in her hometown of Wikwemikong after witnessing a pow wow in another community and realizing the importance of practicing and remembering the teachings of her community's ancestors. What started as the "Wikwemikong Indian Days" gathering almost 60 years ago is now known as the "Wikwemikong Annual Cultural  Festival" and is revered as one of the largest and longest-running pow wows in North America. 

Chief Duke is smudged with sage before the "Grand Entry," a ceremonial procession that honours and acknowledges the community elders, service people and mother earth.

Chief Duke is smudged with sage before the "Grand Entry," a ceremonial procession that honours and acknowledges the community elders, service people and mother earth.

Wikwemikong is "unceded territory" on Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada, which means that the land has never been surrendered in a treaty or otherwise. It also means the land is entirely governed by the First Nations community. "Manitoulin" means "spirit island" in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibway language)and it is the world's largest freshwater island, making it an ideal location for First Nations communities to settle away from the encroaching colonisers more than a century ago. 

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Rosemary Odjig's vision of an annual pow wow in the spirit of reviving teachings, stories, language and traditions seems to have become a success. Today the Wikwemikong Annual Culture Festival pow wow is a fun way for families and friends to get together, to dance and sing to the hypnotic beat of the drum in the Sacred Circle, eat local food, and share stories, language, knowledge and crafts with each other. Talented drum groups and dancers partake in friendly competition for cash prizes, offering mesmerizing and educational entertainment for spectators. Everyone from all walks of life are welcome to watch, support and participate.

These powerful portraits and images taken just a few days ago at the 2017 Wikwemikong Annual Cultural Festival honour the Wikwemikong Heritage Association, which "is a non-profit organization committed to the preservation and enhancement of Anishinaabe culture through education and the participatory cultural opportunities with both Native and Non-Native people." 

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Warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.
— Sitting Bull
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danielledasilva_photographerswithoutborders
The only thing necessary for tranquility in the world is that every child grows up happy.
— Chief Dan George
Mother and daughter.

Mother and daughter.

Father and son.

Father and son.

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Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may not remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.
— Indigenous proverb
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The Circle has healing power. In the Circle we are all equal. When in the Circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you. The Sacred Circle is designed to create unity. The Hoop of Life is also a circle. On this hoop there is a space for every species, every race, every tree and every plant. It is this completeness of Life that must be respected in order to bring about health on this planet.
— Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota
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danielledasilva_photographerswithoutborders
Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the while I am being carried across the sky by beautiful clouds.
— Ojibway proverb
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The 2017 "Iron Man" champion. To win this category a dancer must outlast their fellow dancers without stopping or missing a beat of the drum.

The 2017 "Iron Man" champion. To win this category a dancer must outlast their fellow dancers without stopping or missing a beat of the drum.

When the flesh is gone, the spirit forever remains. Their voices speak to those who know how to listen. Wisdom is born in the heart, and then spoken.
— Wolf Clan Song
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Images and story by Danielle Da Silva.

To find out more about the Wikwemikong Heritage Organisation, visit: wikwemikongheritage.org