OC’s 12th Annual Youth Exhibition Powwow goes virtual this year


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 livestream,” says MacDonald, who works as an Aboriginal Services Coordinator 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 travelling 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.”