UTM’s inaugural All-Nations Powwow: Q&A with Office of Indigenous Initiatives Director Tee Duke
University of Toronto Mississauga's Indigenous Centre and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation (MCFN) will co-host UTM’s first-ever All-Nations Powwow on March 25. An event delayed by the pandemic, the All-Nations Powwow will welcome members from across U of T, local Indigenous communities, and the public.
We spoke with Tee Duke, director of UTM’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII-UTM), about what to expect at the milestone event and its role in fulfilling U of T’s commitments to the University’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee Report, Answering the Call: Wecheehetowin.
For those who may not know, can you explain what a Powwow is?
A Powwow is an Indigenous social celebration where community members can gather and enjoy traditional singing and dancing. All community members, including non-Indigenous, are welcome and are strongly encouraged to attend and participate in what a Powwow has to offer.
Why are Powwows important celebrations?
It’s a time for the Indigenous community to celebrate our culture, knowledge and language. There was a time when legislation known as the Indian Act made it illegal for Indigenous people to practice their culture and language. The fact that we’re able to come together as a community post-pandemic and host UTM’s very first Powwow truly demonstrates how resilient our community is. Powwows have been around for a very long time and I’m grateful that we are at this point at UTM – to organize and carry out an incredible social gathering that welcomes everyone.
Why did UTM decide to host a Powwow?
When I first arrived at UTM in 2019, as the assistant director of Indigenous initiatives, planning a Powwow was one of the first initiatives the UTM Indigenous community shared with me. But then, the pandemic presented significant challenges.
As a community member, I’ve observed the incredible hard work that goes into Powwow planning but even more so Powwow planning post-pandemic. A Powwow is a huge social gathering, and ensuring the timing was right was integral so we could all be together again – in person and safely.
How does the Powwow support the mission of UTM’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives?
The Powwow supports the OII-UTM’s mission by directly providing the opportunity to build new relationships while fostering existing relationships with Indigenous communities.
The foundation of OII-UTM’s work is embedded in Answering the Call: Wecheehetowin. This report is our pathway at UTM for not only working towards the 34 calls to action but also understanding the necessity of building new relationships with Indigenous communities.
The All-Nations Powwow is co-hosted with the MCFN. Why was it important to partner with them for the event, and what was the reception like when you first approached them on this partnership?
It was important to partner with MCFN for our inaugural Powwow because the Powwow was brought forward as a potential initiative by MCFN and the UTM Indigenous community. In addition, it’s another opportunity to continue relationship-building with the host nation and additional local Indigenous community members.
The reception was well-received. And we are truly grateful for all of the support, expertise, and experience the MCFN has shared to ensure we will co-host an incredible event for everyone to enjoy.
What are you most excited about for this event?
I am absolutely thrilled to welcome everyone but especially community members who have never experienced a Powwow before. I really hope everyone enjoys themselves while supporting local Indigenous businesses, building relationships with the Indigenous community, dancing and having a great time.
For first-time Powwow guests, what can they expect from this event?
Expect to take in Indigenous culture and knowledge throughout the event. It's also important for guests to participate with us – intertribal dances specifically are when everyone is welcome to join and dance in the circle.
To learn more about participating in the intertribal dance, visit the Powwow Etiquette page.
What do you hope guests, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will take away with them from the All-Nations Powwow?
That UTM is actively working towards reconciliation with openness, truth and reciprocity. Additionally, I hope the Powwow challenges the notions often embedded in the erasure of Indigenous people. We have been here with resiliency and strength since time immemorial and continue our ancestors' good work every day.
But the work of reconciliation is a collective responsibility, and I hope the Powwow is a place for all community members to reflect and, more importantly, find ways to connect and see themselves in reconciliation work.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Visit the website for more information and registration details on the All-Nations Powwow.