Drums pounding, singing, colours and dance. Not everyone has experienced a powwow, a traditional celebration of Aboriginal dance and culture. Until May 9, the REGALIA: Native Pride photography exhibit at Vanier College, presented by the Vanier Indigenous Circle, gives visitors that chance to learn more about dancers in and out of their ceremonial dress.
Over the course of five years, photographer Roland Lorente and his partner Aline Saffore travelled over 10,000 kilometres to 20 powwows from 14 different nations to raise awareness about modern Aboriginal culture.
“We did this project also out of respect for the First Nations, and for those who do not know the First Nations to discover and understand why the dancers wear this clothing, how they make it, and why they dance,” said Lorente.
The 20 portraits displayed on the campus outdoors at Vanier show dancers in their magnificently colourful dress, contrasted with a photo of the dancer in their regular clothing. The dancer’s name, nation and a brief text about them and their regalia separates the two photos.
“It’s not enough to just show a dancer with their regalia, that’s something anyone can do. The images are a pretext to give a voice to the dancers. We want to do this to bring people to see the photos and understand why they do this– read the text and discover the dancer’s story,” Lorente explained.
The texts are put together by Saffore, who conducted interviews with the dancers. “At the beginning I didn’t know much, had never been to a powwow, so I had a lot to discover,” she said. It was challenging to condense the interviews into a small amount of text, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, she explained.
“The goal is not to answer all questions on Native culture, it’s more to spark interest. If someone leaves with a question, it’s good because they will want to know more.”
The stories give a greater understanding of the diversity of First Nations, and also what motivates a dancer. For example, Mariette Sutherland, an Ojibway dancer from White Fish River First Nation, Ontario, is photographed dancing with her arms outstretched in magnificent yellows and blues adorned with intricate bead work and feathers.
Her story tells how she learned to sew from her mother. Because of her busy job as a health care consultant and finishing a Master’s at the University of Waterloo, Sutherland no longer has time to sew she and her children’s regalia, so her friends and family help out. To the right of the text we see Sutherland smiling in jeans and sneakers.
But each person is different, and the photo exhibit gives the chance to better understand the diversity of cultures. “We’re not all the same. Differences are good . . . it’s important to preserve cultural differences. It’s what gives us our richness, » said Lorente.
He next intends to photograph a dancer from Naskapi in northern Quebec. The exhibit will remain on Vanier Campus (behind the college) until May 9, to coincide with an urban powwow at the school on May 7 and 8.