January 29, 2015

U of A Round Dance: Sharing Traditions and Celebrating Community

You may have heard about the Annual U of A Round Dance, but do you know the traditions behind it? Shana Dion, Director of the U of A Aboriginal Student Services Centre, shares with us the history of the Round Dance and some of the experiences you can expect to have.

For many students at the University of Alberta, the Round Dance is an event they look forward to every year. Some students, however, have never heard of the Round Dance - and that’s okay! At the Aboriginal Student Services Centre, we hope to share with everyone in the U of A community a long standing tradition within First Nations’ culture.

History of the Round Dance
My teachings of the Round Dance were given to me by my Elders. The ceremony itself illustrates the Cree philosophy of death and its relationship between us and Spirits. The Elders say that those who have passed on come to dance with us at the Round Dance, once again joining us and reminding us that they are always here with us. In the dance itself, people move like the Northern Lights in an up and down motion in a circle around the drum and singers, because the Northern Lights are said to be our relations in the sky that have passed on. The beat of the drum represents the heartbeat of the community where all members move together as one.

Traditionally, the Round Dance was a healing ceremony for our community. Today, it has evolved into a social dance where we swap stories, catch up on latest news, break bannock, and share some tea. The Round Dance is for everyone - students, staff, faculty, children, friends, families, youth, and Elders - from all cultural backgrounds. It is a time to honour traditions and memories of ancestors dancing around their starry campfires, flickering against the dark blanket of the night sky.

Experiences you can expect at a Round Dance
Dancing. Lots and lots of dancing!
Whether you participate in the circle or dance in your chair, you will definitely spend the night moving. It is hard to resist the beat of the drum and the enthusiasm of the community, especially when there are upwards of 1000 people joining us throughout the night.

Meet at least one person you have never seen before.
The Round Dance is a time to bring the whole community together. People you never cross paths with on campus and people from the Augustana campus will be in attendance, including families, children, friends, youth and the Elders.

If you feel shy about approaching new people, feel free to talk to any of our volunteers! They are always happy to meet new faces or introduce you to other members of the community.

Feast with the Elders.
This is an opportunity not only to break bannock with your friends and family, but to share in a meal with the Elders. The Elders are usually very busy providing support to our community and sharing their cultural and experience with everyone, so it is truly a gift to have them gathered in the same place, sharing an experience with us.

Learn about and participate in traditional ceremonies.
The Round Dance usually includes 3 traditional ceremonies such as the Pipe Ceremony, Memorial and Giveaway. This year will mark the 3rd Memorial Round Dance to honour our Elder Marge Friedel who passed away in September of 2011. We encourage anyone interested in learning more about these ceremonies to reach out to the Elders, who can provide the cultural knowledge for understanding these traditions.

Hosting a Round Dance each year at the U of A provides all students with the opportunity to connect with First Nations’ tradition and culture as we honour our rich histories. In the words of our late Elder Marge Friedel, the Round Dance “goes back to our basic teachings of respect, honesty, caring, and sharing.” It is my hope to see people from across our diverse community this Saturday as it is truly a time to join the whole people together.

The U of a Annual Round Dance will be held on Saturday, January 31, 2015 in the Education Gym. More information can be found on the Aboriginal Student Services Centre website, and any additional questions can be sent to Shana.