13 reasons why the Manito Ahbee Festival is a can’t-miss experience  - Dancers in their regalia at last year's Manito Ahbee Festival (photo by Jen Doerksen courtesy of Manito Ahbee Festival)

Dancers in their regalia at last year's Manito Ahbee Festival (photo by Jen Doerksen courtesy of Manito Ahbee Festival)

By: Only in the Peg April 28, 2018 //

This spring Turtle Island’s largest Indigenous all-in-one arts, culture and music festivals is celebrating 13 years! 

From May 16 to 20, the 2018 Manito Ahbee Festival will bring together First Nations peoples from across the continent at venues including The Forks (for the kick-off at the Oodena Circle), Delta Hotel Winnipeg, the University of Winnipeg, the Club Regent Event Centre, and the RBC Convention Centre. 

While we could easily list 100 reasons to go, here’s 13 of our favourite things about Manito Ahbee.

1. The Lighting of the Sacred Fire – The area where the The Forks is now situated – that being the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers – has played host to over six thousand years of Indigenous history, making it the ideal spot to start one of the world’s great Indigenous festivals. 

To kick off the start of Manito Ahbee, you can come join chiefs, dignitaries and members from First Nations from across North America as the sacred fire is lit in the middle of the Oodena Celebration Circle. There will also be a traditional Friendship Dance, a pipe ceremony, and songs and drumming to whet your appetite for all the festivities that lay ahead. (May 16, starting at noon.)

2. Fast Feet – The Metis community has their own unique style of dancing – locally known as the Red River Jig – that puts new meaning to fancy foot work. During Getting Jiggy With It (May 20 at the RBC Convention Centre starting at 10 a.m.), you can see this enthralling dance style in both a Square Dance Exhibition and Jigging Competition, where spellbindingly fast footwork is accompanied by some frenzied fiddle playing. It’s truly incredible.

3. Original works of art – Join over 5,000 people at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg during the Indigenous Marketplace and Trade Show where you’ll be able to buy one-of-a-kind items like paintings, moccasins, sculptures, textiles and so much more.

4. The Music – On top of all the live drumming and singing your senses can feast on during the International Pow Wow, Manito Ahbee also features the CBC Music Indigenous Music Awards (Friday, May 18 at the Club Regent Event Centre ), “the world's premier awards show awards show recognizing the accomplishments of Indigenous recording artists and music industry professionals from around the globe.” 

During the show, you’ll see and hear from some of the best Indigenous artists in blues, country, electronic, folk, pow wow, hand drum, rap, and rock, including Ansley SimpsonChase Manhattan and Theland KicknoswayDakhká Khwáan Dancers with DJ DASH, Indian CityKristi Lane Sinclair, and Pat Vegas (Redbone). You can find the full list of nominees here.

5. Even more music! – Manito Ahbee also provides a great networking opportunity for up-and-coming musicians. During the Indigenous Music Conference (May 17-18, Delta Hotel), musicians can meet artistic directors, marketers, agents and fellow musicians who can help get their music into more hands. 

6. Girl Power – While almost every Manito Ahbee event is open to all ages, the biggest one for kids will be Youth Education Day (Friday, May 18 at the University of Winnipeg Recplex), where up to 1000 kids will be in attendance. During the event, 13 thought-provoking and inspiring female speakers will be presenting on the power of Indigenous women in society.

7. Over 800 dancers celebrating and competing in seven styles – Manito Ahbee’s International Pow Wow (May 19 to 20, RBC Convention Centre) is the second largest pow wow on Turtle Island. During the two-day event, spectators will be treated to a diverse range of dances including Women’s Jingle Dress, Women’s Fancy Shawl, Women’s Northern Traditional, Men’s Prairie Chicken, Men’s Fancy Bustle, Men’s Grass and Men’s Traditional. 

On top of that, there is the Grand Entry which introduces the participating First Nations to the crowds. Grace, athleticism, stamina and power will all be on display throughout celebration/competition. For full descriptions and the significance of each dance be sure to check out the Pow Wow 101 etiquette page here

8. The Regalia – As you can see in the above photos (and please, when attending ask dancers first before you take their picture), the regalia worn for each type of dance is truly breath-taking. Each bit of regalia also tells a story, one that a dancer will surely relate to you if you ask.

9. Drums and voice – The energy during the Pow Wow is immense, and so much of that can be attributed to the sure force of the drumming and the soaring vocals of the drummers. We guarantee the energy in the room will be sure to “ignite your spirit.”

10. Prompt Painting – Even visual artists like a little friendly competition, and during Manito Ahbee’s Art Challenge (May 19 to 20, RBC Convention Centre) spectators will be in for a treat as 40 painters will speedily create works of art that we, the public, will judge. The top 10 from two rounds of 20 painters (40 painters in total will enter the competition) then go on to paint in Sunday’s final, starting at 3:30 p.m.

11. Reviving, restoring and celebrating artistic traditions – Indigenous artists looking to honour their roots are invited to present works during the Art Expo (May 19-20, RBC Convention Centre) in the mediums of beadwork, jingle dresses, ribbon shirt, star blanket, and quillwork. In this, the public will be asked to vote for their favourite works in all five categories.

12. Meeting people from all over Turtle Island! – It’s not every week here in Winnipeg when so many diverse Nations descend on the city in such numbers. Expand your horizons and meet people from all over the continent!  

13. An Education – Perhaps the most important thing to know about Manito Ahbee is that it’s open to everyone, promoting the unity of all nations on Turtle Island. You don't have to be Indigenous to attend any of the events, and it is a great way to learn about customs and histories from across the continent. In fact, you are encouraged to ask questions, as Manito Ahbee is all about the sharing of cultures!