Our Dances Today

By Elaine Keillor

The Algonquin might have had a form of chordophone, as the text above has suggested. The people could have developed this instrument with available materials long before Europeans arrived, but this is not certain, as Scottish and French fur traders brought violins. The Algonquins prized the instrument right away and learned its step dances and square dances (McGregor 2004: 184). These dances are less evident today, but the sounds of fiddles still resonate at gatherings such as wedding receptions.

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Click here to listen to an interview with Pauline Decontie who recalled square dancing in her youth and other dances in the 1960s such as rock ‘n’ roll.

Pauline also spoke about how the Algonquins kept their traditional songs and dances alive, despite the priests who tried to stop them and the government that banned traditional gatherings. The songs and dances thus became ever less evident from the 1920s on, but the last two decades of the 20th century saw this culture powerfully rebound. Pauline was among those who have led regular community gatherings at Kitigan Zibi to restore traditional songs and dances.  Gradually, one event in the first week of every June became the annual powwow.

In the early 1980s, Pauline’s daughter Robin first heard a singer with a drum in a powwow song. The sound captured her heart, so she sought recordings such as the Badland Singers of North Dakota and Alberta’s Pigeon Lake Singers. Robin listened closely to these recordings and played them over and over again. Soon, she learned how to be a back-up singer. Today she records with the White Tail Cree Drum, singers from Moose Factory, Wiki, Wolf Lake, and Manotick who have been together since 1990.  The group performs often, including when Algonquin powwow dancers capture top prizes on the powwow competition circuit.

On-going cultural programs in the schools and at the Kitigan Zibi Anishinaabeg Cultural Education Centre encourage groups that can sing and drum for dancers at various occasions.  These singers include boys’ and men’s drums as well as girls’ and women’s hand-drum groups.

The Education Centre has become a vibrant guardian of ancient and modern Algonquin culture.  Modern singers and dancers continue to work in the Centre within feet of artifacts that date back 8,000 years.

The Centre has thus visibly proven that this Algonquin culture that has been is now; and that which is to be, has already been.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance