Fancy Shawl

The Fancy Shawl dance is the most flamboyant and energetic of  all Pow Wow women’s events.  Performers skip and jump through the air while swirling their shawls in large sweeping gestures.

The category is a relatively new one, different from the more conservative styles of the Jingle and Traditional Women’s dance.  Some say its origins lie in mimicking the  transformation of a butterfly from a cocoon. Others say that it was created by women wanting to duplicate the complex foot work of the Men’s Fancy dance.

Saga says that the first time a woman (her friend) competed, she disguised herself as a man and entered the Men’s Fancy dance.  Unexpectedly, she won!  The judges decided it was time for change and they a created brand new dance category for women.

I especially liked these shots of Saga in her Fancy Shawl regalia.  I thought the strong colors and striking poses looked powerful.  That’s representative of the dance’s origins in both cases, don’t you think?

For more explanation of the different styles of Pow Wow dances I refer you to  this article.   Although dated, the post is comprehensive and complete. It is very informative and great prep for your next Pow Wow visit.

Toronto, Canada. 2018


Jingle Dress








The very first time I went to a Native American Pow Wow, I remember walking through the grounds and being followed by a symphony of  bells and  wind chimes.  When I looked around I was surprised to see a dancer in her Jingle dress right behind me.

The Jingle dress dance is  a simple one.   It is a ladies event and they jump up and down with their hands placed on their hips.  It is mesmerizing to watch and so easy to get lost in the rhythm of the drums and metallic clink of the bells.

Saga (my model) says that each bell is hand made and sewn individually to the dress. There can be up to  three hundred and sixty five bells, one for each day of the year.  It’s extremely heavy! Imagine jumping around with all that metal on a hot summer day. Even so, Saga says that once she gets going, she slips in to a zone where all the discomfort disappears.

The Jingle dance is associated with healing qualities.  The story goes that at the very first dance there was a sick little girl. The magic of the jingle dance roused her from her sickness and she awoke refreshed and cured.

For more history on the Jingle Dress, have a look at this documentary by PBS and produced with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

The Jingle Dress Dance is a popular and powerful tradition that has spread throughout America’s Native communities. Ojibwe elders offer stories of its beginnings and its healing powers, and musicians demonstrate the unique songs and rhythms of the dance. Produced with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Source: The Jingle Dress Tradition – Twin Cities PBS

And now for something different …




A new year is a good time to try something different.

After my less than illustrious foray into flash photography, I’ve been shy about doing studio shoots.  However when Hubby arranged a session with a model in Native American dress, I was more than happy to tag along.

The difference between studio and street photography is light.  In a studio, you have full control of light, in street you don’t. In street, you chase the light. In studio, you make it. There’s a lot of  technical knowledge involved in getting light to perform. Know-how and Gear and Set-up.  For this session I was glad to rely on Hubby’s expertise. My focus was on getting a few good shots.

Here’s my first set. I kept them in dramatic B&W to emphasize the shape and movement of the fancy shawl.

Saga our model had some spectacular outfits. They were all handmade with fine details and gorgeous colors.  She also had  an interesting tale about the origins of the Fancy Shawl dance event in Pow Wows … but you can read more about that in my next post.

 Toronto, Canada. 2018





Pacific Rim Totems and Legends

Totems by Doug LaFortune

Surrounded by the natural wonders of BC’s rain forests and wild life, it is easy to appreciate the myths and legends of the First Nations people.

The original inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest relied on oral tradition to record their history and carved totem poles to create a permanent record of  events. Typically the totems were carved from the single trunk of a cedar tree.   Totem artists often speak of a spiritual connection to the original tree.

When a great tree is chosen for a totem pole or a canoe, there are ceremonies to celebrate the rebirth of the tree into a new existence. These ceremonies reflect our understanding that there is a spiritual connection between man and tree, that we are all aspects of a greater whole, and that the apparent differences between flesh and wood are insignificant compared to the kinship between the spirit of the tree and the spirit of the carver.” (Richard Krentz, Salish artist. Nov 2012).

The city of Duncan aka “City of Totems”,  has one of the world’s largest, outdoor collection of publicly displayed totem poles. They were created in a joint community project with the Quw’utsun’ (Cowichan) people.  Altogether  some forty totems are placed around the city, on land acknowledged as traditional Quw’utsun’ lands.

In another city Sooke,  is an artfully painted fiberglass bear “Kody”.

Kody was part of a  public art initiative and was created by local Sooke artists Gene Sebelius and Bonnie Spencer.  He captures the Kitasoo legend where Raven, who created all living things after the great ice age, went among the bears and turned every tenth bear white as a reminder of the time when the world was pure and clean and covered with ice.

As a point of fact, the Spirit bear does actually exist.

In modern science he is called the  Kermode bear and lives only in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. He is not related to the polar bear nor is he an albino. He is a Black Bear with a recessive gene that causes about 1 in 10 bears to be white. Families of these bears can consist of both black and white bears.

Interesting, yes?

A wonderful meet up  of myth and science, history and life, coming together in art.

Made only in Canada.

Duncan & Sooke. Vancouver Island, BC. 2017 


Native American Pow Wows

grandriver-9931The first time I attended a Pow Wow it wasn’t even a Pow Wow.  It was a Native American concert with time carved out for a traditional and fancy shawl dance demonstration. Lakota rapper Frank Wahn was the headline feature but the highlight for me were the dance performances. I’ve since attended larger and more official Pow Wows.  Every time, just like the first time, I am impressed by their color and pageantry.

There’s something spectacular about a Pow Wow.  It begins with the Grand Entry when distinguished elders, veterans and leaders of the community enter the circle with the Eagle Staff.  They’re followed by a parade of all the inter tribal participants. Over the PA system the MC announces the entrants and the participants dance to the rhythmic beat of the drum singers.   It’s all very exciting and well …grand.

Modern day Pow Wows are a way to preserve the rich heritage of the North American Indian tribes and in many cases, include elaborate demonstrations and contests for dance and song performances.

In the summer months there’s a regular roster of Pow Wows throughout Canada and US.  When I attended my first pow wow, it was relatively low key with most of the spectators visiting from surrounding areas and reservations. This year I noticed an increase in the number of tourists and international languages peppering the crowds.   Modern day intrusions, like unabashed selfie takers and intrusive drone cameras (!) have become distractions. Thankfully, they are still minor in occurrence.

Brittney Shki-Giizis
Brittney Shki-Giizis

Generally performers are friendly and amenable to posing for pictures (with permission) and talking about their regalia.  I met Brittney Shki-Giizis who gave me background on her outfit and close-up pictures of her dress.

Called ‘regalia’,  Brittney’s outfit had sewn-in symbols of her tribe and clan; flowers for the Ojibwe tribe and her crow ‘helper’ from the Marten clan. The outfit was all handmade, intricately embroidered with millions of tiny beads.  It’s no wonder that her dress cost thousands of dollars to make.

Brittney is also an avid vblogger and her Youtube channel gives a fascinating look at Pow Wows, in front and behind the scenes.  Check out her vlog entry here for the Six Nations Pow Wow where we met … and yes, I agree with her: it was a sweltering 40 degrees and the paparazzi like spectators were embarrassingly aggressive in taking pictures.  Hopefully, she doesn’t remember me as one of them.

Ontario, Canada.  September, 2016 

For more pictures on Pow Wows see my Flickr album Native American Pow Wows and for more information about Pow Wows in general have a look at