Educational artist brings pow wow colours and energy to the Winter Festival

Jessica Rabbitskin dances during a pow wow demonstration on the second day of Prince Albert Winter Festival Family Days. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Jessica Rabbitskin has always loved teaching, and although she isn’t in the classroom anymore, she’s still doing her best to educate the next generation about Indigenous culture.

Rabbitskin was one of three dancers giving a pow wow demonstration at the Prince Albert Winter Festival Family Days Cultural Event on Wednesday. Rabbitskin said it’s a great way to teach people about Indigenous culture and promote healthy activities.

It’s also a chance for her to get back to doing what she loves: teaching.

“It’s one of my things I like to do,” said Rabbitskin, who previously worked as a school teacher before starting a new career as an educational artist. “I like to educate. I like to share. I like to talk to kids. I like to see that interest in their eyes.”

Rabbitskin started pow wow dancing when she was 12 before quitting for many years. She returned to dancing briefly before quitting again to focus on creating dancing regalia and homeschooling her children.

After watching her children at pow wows, Rabbitskin felt the urge to start dancing again, but she wanted to do more than just perform. She wanted to teach, while also growing closer to her family.

“It’s really awesome to dance. It feels really good to be able to dance for people, (and) I love it when my son is with me,” she said. “It’s a family thing. Family is everything to me, so it’s really good for us to be together too. This is like a healing thing for us, when we hear that drum, when we dance to that drum, and it’s a ceremony in itself.”

Rabbitskin’s 17-year-old son, Leander Dreaver, joined her for the pow wow demonstration at the Prince Albert Exhibition Centre on Wednesday. Dreaver said there was a time when he never would have considered learning traditional Indigenous dancing. However, he struggled with alcoholism and depression in his early teenage years, and turned to dance as a positive activity.

Now, Dreaver urges other teenagers to seek out elders and learn traditional ways as a healthy activity to fight back against despair.

“I know a lot of people my age think there’s nothing to do, there’s nowhere to go, I’m stuck at home, and they think no one understands, no one gets it, because everyone who tries to help, they’re all adults and no teenager wants to listen to an adult,” Dreaver said. “I didn’t. I was always saying, ‘you don’t understand,’ or, ‘you don’t know.’ Coming from me, a 17-year-old teenager who went through suicidal thoughts, went through depression, fell into alcohol to try and wash it away and almost lost my life because of what I was feeling and what I went through, this (dance) really does help.”

Drummer Rene French and dancer Wilbur Campbell rounded out the pow wow demonstration group on Wednesday. The performance was one of many activities Family Day organizers brought in from Feb. 20-22 to promote Indigenous and Metis culture.

Tuesday’s event included a storytelling workshop with local author Leah Dorion, while Thursday’s activities include a hoop dancing demonstration.

Family Day coordinator Eleanor Crawford said the response has been excellent so far.

“It’s important to have that out here,” she said. “The aboriginal people the Metis people, that’s who’s done a lot of the trapping and fishing and events that date way back, so this is kind of an original thing. We’re just trying to bring it back and re-create it.”

The final Winter Festival Family Day runs Thursday, Feb. 22 from 1-4 p.m. at the Prince Albert Exhibition Centre.