One of the largest cultural events on Vancouver Island is returning to the Saanich Peninsula this summer, but it will also mark the end of an era for its organizers.
For 28 years, Angel Sampson and her family have organized what’s currently known as the Yellow Wolf Inter-tribal Powwow, drawing Indigenous drummers, competitive dancers and vendors from across North America and hundreds of visitors from around the world.
The event won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but it will be returning to its original name and a transition is beginning which will see younger members of her sprawling family start to take on more organizational roles from their elders.
“When we first started this, it was called the Wutawnty powwow, which was my mother’s traditional name, and then some years down the road one of my brothers asked if we could use my son’s name, which is Yellow Wolf. He received that name from my grandmother when he was born. Yellow Wolf was a warrior under Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people, and was one of the top warriors, so it is a very highly respected name,” said Sampson. “We are reverting the name back to Wutawnty powwow next year, so this will be the last year as the Yellow Wolf powwow.”
The powwow is an event imported to the lands of the Coast Salish from the Sampson family’s roots with the Nez Perce Nation in Idaho.
After some initial skepticism in its early years, Sampson said it has become popular.
The family friendly and fully-accessible event is free for everyone to attend and will feature a wide range of traditional dance competitions, drumming, entertainment, food, and a variety of entertainers. Each year’s event is different from the last, and Sampson said even she doesn’t always know everything which will be on show over the three-day event.
Like last year, the powwow is being held indoors at Stelly’s Secondary School in Saanichton. Sampson said the partnership between her family and School District 63 – which was born out of necessity during the pandemic when they were in desperate need for a location to host the powwow, which the district happily offered up – has been one of the strongest examples of reconciliation surrounding the event.
“They really took to heart the importance of this gathering, that it was honouring our mom and helping to educate non First Nations about some of our practices,” said Sampson. “This is the kind of thing we are getting out there. Yes it is our ways and our tradition, but we want to be inclusive and invite people who may not have ever experienced something like this.”
In that spirit of inclusivity, last year’s event featured performances and vendors from the Ukrainian community, in honour of the impact they have felt since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion against Ukraine. This year, Sampson hopes to be able to honour Stelly’s support for the event by helping to fundraise for some of the school’s programs, though those plans have not been finalized with the organizing committee at this time.
The powwow is set to start in the evening of July 21, and continue through July 23.