Round Dance brings ‘a sense of warmth and inclusion’

The Northern Lights Casino Feast and Round Dance featured several singers, who also drummed while people danced around them. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

The Northern Lights Casino Feast and Round Dance on Saturday had hundreds gathering hands and dancing in a circle to the sound of singing and drums.

Richard Ahenakew, general manager of the casino, said the event is meant to celebrate the achievements of the staff both inside and outside of the workplace.

“(It’s) remembering all of the staff who’ve been with us and passed on, our elders, saying prayers for continued guidance from our elders, from our veterans, from the leadership and more importantly just to remember the importance of the family,” he said.

The 20th annual round dance took place at the Senator Allan Bird Memorial Centre starting at 5 p.m. Like all traditional round dances, it carried into the early hours of the morning.

Ahenakew said round dances follow a specific protocol.

“You have to have a sweat beforehand, you have to have a feast…the feast is to feed your travellers,” he said. Emcee Sanford Sandstorm said many of the singers travel right from one round dance to the next.

They also serve a midnight lunch to feed travellers before heading out on the road. They make enough meals for 600 people, but Ahenakew said the amount isn’t important.

“This celebration is about the people. It’s not about the numbers through the door. If there was 10 people here, we would still have the celebration.”

As the night went on, Sandstorm explained the spiritual significance of the events, starting with the opening song.

Organizers, staff and special guests, including representatives from the Prince Albert Police Service and City of Prince Albert, danced around a tree.

“There is a tree that we utilize in the middle, and we always say that life is a part of that tree,” he said.

“These are the ways of our people, what our ancestors have left us from down here always is a part of that tree.”

Emcee Sanford Sandstorm explained the cultural significance of round dance protocols, including dancing around a tree for the first song to represent their ancestors. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Ahenakew said he usually sees more and more youth show up as the night goes on. The event was drug and alcohol free, making it a safe space for everyone to take part.

“It’s a great feeling and the feeling is even better when you talk to the elders and you see how important it is to them that we have this,” said Ahenakew.

Although there are several other round dances taking place in Prince Albert, including at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, he said the Northern Lights Casino round dance appears to engage more youth.

“For some reason this one seems to attract the most youth and seems to have a really good segment of elders… that the youth can approach and talk to,” he said.

“This has always been a good celebration, there’s a sense of warmth and inclusion when you’re here and it’s such a good event, and all round dances are like that.”

Ahenakew said they invite other groups to the event for fundraising opportunities. Prince Albert Pride, for example, ran the concession.

“I’m so happy for all of the people who have made time to be with us,” said Ahenakew, looking forward to celebrating the casino’s 24th anniversary this week.

The Northern Lights Casino also hosts a pow wow on Thanksgiving weekend.