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Heart of the Youth aims for 5,000 guests at 2022 pow wow

Heart of the Youth aims for 5,000 guests at 2022 pow wow
Elder Liz Settee speaks during the opening of the Heart of the Youth Pow Wow Sponsorship Lunch on Wednesday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Roughly 3,000 people attended the last in-person Heart of the Youth Community Pow Wow, and if Elder Liz Settee has her way, they’ll add another 2,000 to that total when the pow wow continues next year.

Settee hopes to have 5,000 people in attendance when Heart of the Youth returns to a physical setting on May 27, 2022. She admits it’s an ambitious goal, but one she’s confident they can reach, even if others aren’t.

“Probably that I’m a dreamer,” Settee said with a laugh when asked what kind of reaction she expects to get from her new goal. “I don’t know. For myself, you have to have a goal to work towards.”

Settee said roughly 1,800 people came out for the inaugural pow wow in 2018—double what organizers originally expected. That number swelled to 3,000 in 2019, but the 2020 event was cancelled, and organizers moved everything online for the 2021 pow wow last May.

Settee said the virtual pow wow was a great chance to build their audience. She’s hoping those viewers will travel to Prince Albert in 2022 to see the festivities in person.

“We had people from Vancouver watching. We had people from all over the world—Australia even—watching,” she explained. “I don’t think people from Australia will come, but maybe the ones closer to Saskatchewan will make the trip up.”

The 2021 virtual pow wow was so successful, organizers plan to keep some of the online components in place next year. Settee said they’re hoping COVID won’t interfere with their plans, but if it does, they’ll make sure people know where to tune in.

Settee announced her new goal at a community sponsorship lunch at the Saskatchewan Rivers Education building on Wednesday.

Curtis Bird, a youth leader who’s helped organize the pow wow since the start, said it’s encouraging to see so many organizations supporting the event.

“We started out small, but as you can see, we have lots of sponsors,” Bird said. “The first year turned out a lot more than we expected.”

“It’s amazing,” Settee said. “It takes a community or a village to raise a child, and this is what it looks like—people coming together to help support the pow wow. We couldn’t do it without them.”

Both Settee and Bird said they’ve seen a huge transformation in the youth who’ve been involved with the pow wow since year one. They say it’s helped build confidence, connect Indigenous youth with their culture, and educate them about music and dance.

That’s particularly true for Bird, who said the pow wow played a big role in keeping him out of gangs, and on a productive path.

“I grew up in the system, social services, but at the schools and stuff, many gang members approached me,” Bird remembered. “Not every youth has the opportunity or the confidence to turn them down, and they get wrapped up in it. This (Heart of the Youth) is a great way for them to not get wrapped up in anything bad.”