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Review of Canadian Aboriginal Festival in Toronto

I attended the Canadian Aboriginal Festival, the largest of its kind in Canada on Sunday, December 2, 2007. It was my first time at this event which has been held at the Rogers Centre (Skydome) in Toronto for the last several years.

I got there for the Grand Entry of the native aboriginal dance contestants and it was certainly a great spectacle to witness, much like the entry of athletes at Olympic games. It was great to see so much representation of different age groups and native aboriginal bands from across North America at this giant pow wow like event. The different native singing drum groups spread out in the perimeter of the main floor took turns supplying the accompanying music for the dancers.

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I was very impressed with the dancers, their colorful costumes and of course, the powerful native aboriginal pow wow drum music which accompanied each dance performance. Different dances were grouped by type of dance including contemporary (but still native) and traditional. Male and female dancers went on separately and some groups were divided by age range as well.

image canadian native aboriginal festival dancers dance pow wow ------ image canadian native aboriginal festival dancers dance pow wow
-------Young Girls in Native Costumes --------A Native Elder Dancer -----

For most of the dance competitions, one of the singing drum groups would be asked to bring their setup to the middle of the floor and the dancers would actually dance around the seated drummers. When a dance division was large with a lot of dancers, the scene was like a giant swirl of wild colors. As a result, most of the dancing was an incredible spectacle to witness.

image canadian native aboriginal festival dancers dance pow wow
Native Aboriginal Dancers During Competition

I was less impressed with the quality and range of native aboriginal artwork though. Most were bead work, dream catchers, low end jewelry, leatherwork and t-shirts with native themes on sale. There weren’t very much high end gallery quality native artwork present at the festival’s marketplace. The only Northwest native representation was a single booth offering aboriginal design blankets. No Northwest native artwork was present. There was only one Inuit art booth with only a minimal number of small stone carvings available.

The traditional native food was okay. I had a salad venison stew combo which was delicious. I also tried the buffalo burger but found the deep fried buns to be much too oily for my taste. At $7 per burger, the price was a bit steep too. This was the same price for the stew. There was also moose burger on the menu as well but I didn’t have a big enough appetite to try both types of burgers available.

image canadian native aboriginal festival dancers dance pow wow
Native Aboriginal Girls Preparing For Next Dance

They had fashion shows and musical performances there too but they were more contemporary rather than aboriginal and most of the festival’s action was still at the main dance areas. There were many other booths representing native groups and related aboriginal businesses but I think these were of little interest to most attendees. It was definitely the native dancing that was the major draw for the Canadian Aboriginal Festival.

Toronto’s Rogers Centre Skydome was a good indoor location for the event but given the relatively sparse attendance especially of non-native aboriginal public, it might have been too large a venue as I would estimate that only 10 percent of stadium seats at most were ever occupied at any one time. Don’t forget that the Skydome is a full size sports baseball/football stadium.

image canadian native aboriginal festival dancers dance pow wow
More Display of Colors by Native Aboriginal Dancers

Would I go again? Sure, for the $10 ticket entry, the native aboriginal dance and accompanying music singing drum performances were certainly worth it. The Canadian Aboriginal Festival was almost like a National Geographic special coming to life.

The Canadian Aboriginal Festival is mostly about the native dancing and music rather than artwork. As a Canadian diversity speaker, I could definitely recommend this event as part of your cultural events tour.  If it's artwork you want to see, go to the museums and galleries (as well as this website).

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