Dancing Towards A Better Life: How Deanne Hupfield Found Cultural Connection on the Powwow Trail
"Through culture, I was able to make a better life for myself," reflects Deanne Hupfield. She is from Temagami First Nation and lives in Toronto, where she teaches regalia making and powwow dance. She started dancing as a small girl in Thunder Bay after her mom took her to her first powwow. She loved it and wanted to learn to dance but her mom couldn’t teach her. She suggested she get out there and learn from other dancers. Local people took her under their wing, seeing her love of dance.
Life got harder from there, unfortunately. Her mom was a sixties scoop survivor and the rest of her parents went to residential school and they lived in poverty. At the age of 12, she started to shoplift to survive and she was already an alcoholic. She ended up going to youth detention homes and attended a cultural connection program run by an Indigenous social worker.
"I dreamed of a better life, even though I couldn't see it."
Eventually, he would become her foster parent and the experience changed her life. “If it wasn't for that family who took me in and loved me and supported me, I don't think I would have survived. I wouldn't have been able to make a better life for myself,” she shares.
Culture is where she found solace as she endured hardship in Thunder Bay. “Connecting to culture was just my way to heal from my own family's generational trauma as well as being proud of who I am as an Ojibwe, to stand up against all of the racism. I was able to dance my way to a better life,” she smiles.
After doing a fasting ceremony when she hit puberty, Hupfield was given her colours and what her regalia should look like. Her foster parent brought in community members to teach how to make regalia. It took two years for her to finish but she got it done. She received teachings about her responsibilities as a dancer and started dancing but stopped for a while when she moved to Winnipeg where she was old enough to drink.
When she was able to break away from alcohol, she came back to culture. She moved to Toronto and started over, making new friends and better choices. It was an easier place for Hupfield to get established. “No one knew me or knew my history and didn't use my history against me. They just took a risk on me and supported me and showed me and I've been doing this work now for 14 years teaching at community level and it's the best,” she beams.
As a child, Hupfield moved around a lot so moving to Toronto was a little scary but she was used to uprooting her life. Her foster dad and his oldest daughter drove her to her new town and helped her find housing. She almost went back to Thunder Bay, until her foster dad reminded her she lives in a city with millions of people and she could just make some friends.
She went to the Friendship Centre and asked if they would hire her to teach powwow dance and regalia making. They agreed and she took training through the Royal Conservatory of Toronto to learn how to teach people in a classroom setting. She got grant funding and a mentor to help her learn.
Hupfield never graduated from high school but earned some credits through youth corrections. She went to Lakehead University for a native nursing program which she enjoyed but realized she didn’t want to be a nurse. She took entrepreneurial training instead and became a powwow vendor. She received a lot of orders for regalia and learned to sew at George Brown College.
In second year of fashion school, when the program got into high fashion, she decided to leave because she didn’t need to learn those things to make regalia. She started making regalia and teaching classes and found the demand was high. She started to dream about training others to teach regalia making and powwow instruction.
Teaching powwow was important to her because of the peace she found during ceremonial songs. “I would think about all that hard stuff I had to live through. I would just dance through it and I would dance until my body physically couldn't dance anymore. At the end of the song, I would feel a little bit lighter and I wouldn't feel as heavy. I'm not the only person with all that heaviness. I want that opportunity for my community out there,” she explains.
With a grant from Mastercard, her dream is becoming a reality and she’s going to be travelling to make it happen, training and mentoring in communities all over. Another way she’s taught powwow has been through youtube videos she’s made, including one for kids that went viral. Teachers use her video in their classes and it only took her half an hour to make.
In her downtime, she travels with her family so her kids can dance powwow. Her husband is finishing his PhD about how education is passed down on the Powwow trail and he also coaches basketball. They are both on the parent council at school and participate in revitalizing language, culture and sports and living the dream.
Through culture, Deanne Hupfield was able to make a better life for herself, one she dreamed of, even though she couldn't see it. She danced her way to a life full of culture, community and opportunity, leaving behind the racism of where she grew up and creating something new for her family in the city.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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