Mawiomi is the Gathering
Theresa Meuse on why she wrote The Gathering: providing parents, teachers and other educators with a visual tool makes for a more fun and interactive way for children to learn and can spark more discussions and school projects that enhance the teachings of Mi’kmaq culture.
Theresa Meuse, illustrated by Art Stevens
I wanted to write a story focused on what some First Nations people call the Gathering, a Powwow or in the Mi’kmaw language, a Mawiomi. Each is similar in its ceremonies. The term used depends mainly on the community hosting the event.
A Gathering is based on a traditional practice that brings people together to celebrate life and all that it has to offer. No matter who hosts the event, activities will include traditional drumming and dancing and in most cases, competitions in both. There will be winners for which group performed the best drumming and recognition to the best dancers in categories such as male grass dancers and female jingle or shawl dancers.
There will be vendors selling food and crafts. Craft demonstrations and talking circles may also take place throughout the Gathering. A sacred fire is usually available for people to attend for making prayer offerings. An Elder may be walking the gathering grounds inviting people to take part in a smudging ceremony.
Each Gathering is different, with its own set of activities and ceremonies. Some things are common at all of them. For instance, regalia is not a costume, nor is it worn in a
way that is disrespectful to the culture. No alcohol or drugs are permitted. A feast is prepared for everyone who attends and there are always Elders willing to teach and help out wherever they can. Some hosts will allow dogs on leashes but it is always a good idea to ask first. The same holds true for picture and video taking. If unsure, always ask.
It is an honour for a community to host a Gathering and once the date is identified, it gets included on a list of dates known as the Powwow Trail. The Powwow Trail enables dancers, drummers, crafters and others to plan ahead. Some community members spend all summer travelling from gathering to gathering, throughout the Atlantic Provinces, Maine and other parts of the United States.
I wrote my latest children’s book, The Gathering, so that it could be used as an illustrated tool to help people learn about this important part of Indigenous cultures.
Mi’kmaq history teaches that we were an oral society. Our ancestors didn’t write things down. They taught through verbal explanations or learning by observation.
And even in the modern day, these methods of teaching are still a big part of our culture. But we also include written words to communicate, which allows others to learn about Mi’kmaq culture too.
The Gathering is designed with lots of modern day, colourful pictures to help children visualize the story as they read it or listen to it being read. Providing parents, teachers and other educators with a visual tool makes for a more fun and interactive way for children to learn. It can also lead to more discussions and school projects that enhance the teachings of Indigenous cultures.
Many of our stories are based on the olden days. And, although this is helpful when teaching historical information, having a modern approach makes it more real for a child. I wanted to create a young character, Alex, to make the story more meaningful to children, a guide to take them on an adventure or journey.
Through Alex, all people – including Indigenous people who didn’t grow up learning their own culture – can better understand and appreciate the Gathering. People from various cultures attend gatherings, including many youth, and this book can also serve as a guide to appropriate, respectful behaviour at your next Gathering.