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Manito Ahbee, A Festival for All Nations

Published: 11/04/2010

I can feel the pulsing of drums before I can hear them. As I get closer to the massive indoor stage, I begin to hear the thread of ancient voices in song. The language I don't know but the rhythm is contagious. I begin to hum along even though I've never heard this song before. I learn later that these are the songs of the Cree, Ojibwe and Dakota Sioux-celebrating together at the powwow competition at the annual Manito Ahbee Festival.

The Grand Entry is underway so I take my seat. Barely-walking toddlers, smiling grandmothers and enthusiastic teenagers step to the beat in fancy shawls and jingle dresses, practicing their steps for the competitions. Little boys in brightly coloured regalia step, peck and spin as they rehearse the chicken dance. The men, with impressive feather headdresses and imposing face paint, walk through the steps of the grass dance.

The dancers, and there are hundreds of them, are circled by drum groups who have traveled for days to be here. They take their turns accompanying the dancers and competing for the attention of the judges.

There's a break in the music so I head to the marketplace. There are irresistible pieces are carving, sweet grass braids for smudging and beautiful handmade earrings, but it's a hand drum that catches my eye.  Maybe it's time for me to learn a song or two.

The Manitoba Ahbee Festival showcases the talents, gifts and abilities of Aboriginal artists from all nations. It's celebration of music, arts, culture and heritage that includes the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, an educational conference, international powwow competition, tradeshow and marketplace and more.

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