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How Powwow Dancing On TikTok Helped Michelle Chubb Find Herself Again

Introducing Every Day Indigenous, our series centering and celebrating Indigenous people. Through strength and resistance, comes joy. It’s time to share that.
I’m Swampy Cree born in Winnipeg, Man. When I was little, my parents would travel back and forth between my dad's rez, Bunibonibee Cree Nation, and my mom's, Pimicikamak Cree Nation. My parents eventually decided they wanted a better life for us, so we moved to St. Norbert in the south end of Winnipeg.
In the summer and winter, we would go to mom’s rez at Cross Lake to visit my grandparents, my mosôm and kôhkom. That's mainly where I was taught about my culture. My mosôm and kôhkom were spiritual healers, and growing up, I always wanted to be like them. People would come over to their house and bring gifts in exchange for a healing. That was really inspiring to me. What I was learning was really, really different compared to my life in the city.
My aunties were into powwow dancing and wanted me and my siblings to learn too. At powwows, many nations get together and we dance in our regalia. There are drummers that come and sing and there are food vendors who bring different Indigenous foods. It feels like home. I think I was around four or five when I started to learn how to jingle dress dance.

At powwows, many nations get together and we dance in our regalia. There are drummers that come and sing and there are food vendors who bring different Indigenous foods. It feels like home.

My aunties taught me that when you dance you have to be praying also. That’s how you heal. Keep your back straight and head up. Be respectful of the powwow grounds and of others. There’s no drugs or alcohol allowed. Don’t touch regalia without asking because you can pass on unwanted energy. That’s why I always had my one auntie braid my hair (she was the braider of the family). There's a significance of braiding mind, body, and spirit. The braider has to have good thoughts and good intentions while braiding hair because those thoughts are really close to your head and they get intertwined. It can stick with you. 
There are actually a lot of love stories of powwows, too. There's a joke about snagging at powwows. That’s where my auntie fell in love with her husband. She's a jingle dress dancer and he's a traditional dancer.
For about four to five years, every summer my mosôm and kôhkom and our whole family would hit the powwow trails here in Manitoba, travelling from one rez to another each weekend and camping. That all crumbled when my mosôm died in 2006. My mosôm was a great man, everyone went to him for wisdom. He was the only one in his family that went to residential school. When he passed, my family kind of just went their separate ways.
People heal in different ways. After he died, I bugged my parents — my mom especially — to take me to powwows again, but they never did. I’m not exactly sure why we didn’t go but I’m pretty sure it was because of my mosôm dying.
So, I went on with my life. I stopped dancing because I grew out of my old jingle dress. I stopped going to ceremonies for a bit. I missed it a lot. I didn't really talk to many people. I didn’t talk about powwows. I knew if I brought it up, people would tease me about it. I remember this one time when I was with a group of school friends. We were all sharing about how we say, “grandma.” When they asked me, I told them, “I say kôhkom.” And then they all looked at me funny and told me kôhkom sounded weird.  After that, I never said anything about my culture.
When high school ended, I didn't really do much. I was drinking, I was doing drugs. I wasn't in the right mind for a couple of years. I felt lonely and out of place. I was partying just for a distraction. I always thought to myself, I should be doing something with my life because this isn't it. I always found myself talking about wanting to be like my mosôm. 
Things changed when I met my boyfriend. He was spiritual. Having ceremonies in common and sharing each other's teachings, I never had a connection like that before. He helped me grow as a person. We quit drinking. I stopped doing drugs. And that's when I started to really reconnect with my culture.

Over 130 residential schools here in Canada. We are all grieving & remembering. Please do your research 🧡

♬ Eyabay - Jingle Dress
When I started getting back into dancing, my auntie gifted me her old jingle dress. I felt honoured. It’s black with colourful flowers on it, and there are more details at the bottom. And as I started to practise my dance steps, it came back to me real quick. Dancing helped with my sobriety because it made me feel at home again, at peace again. It made me feel connected to my mosôm. I felt like he was beside me.
I’ve been sober and dancing again for almost two years now. At the beginning of 2020, I started posting on TikTok, and that's when I began changing others’ views of Indigenous people. Growing up, I was ashamed to be Native. I would always try to fit in with my white classmates. People thought I was dumb. But on TikTok, I could show the world that we're strong, smart, intelligent people.
I use my platform to share about my culture and to talk about the history of Canada: what happened through the '60s scoop, residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. I also share about my regalia and jingle dress dancing. When I dance, people on TikTok have said that it’s mesmerizing — something they haven't seen it anywhere else. They always thank me. I started encouraging other people to reconnect to their cultures as I'm reconnecting because it's a beautiful thing.
For any Indigenous people out there starting to reconnect and wanting to make their own regalia, just remember you can take as much time as you need. Get comfortable with what you’re doing. It’s not a race. I made two of my own jingle dresses. I feel honoured when I get to dance in my own dress and showcase it. At powwows, everyone gets to show off their own regalia and everyone has their own colours they represent. Right down to our moccasins. We wear them to be closer to Mother Earth. It's pretty cool to see how people design their own moccasins to represent themselves and also show what tribe or nation they're from. 

Only I know myself and it’s between me and the Creator. It doesn't really matter what people say about you, because your actions will always speak louder.

I was preparing for the 2020 powwow season which would have been my first time back since my mosôm passed, but then the Covid pandemic shut everything down. Whenever they start up again, I’m really looking forward to Manito Ahbee. It’s the biggest one in Canada and it happens here in Winnipeg. A lot of people from across Canada and also from the States come to pray and to dance. Everyone is welcome at powwows, you don’t have to be a dancer, drummer, or vendor.  Anyone can come and watch, you just have to be respectful.
A lot has changed for me since I started TikTok. I've been getting a lot of compliments about how I've gone so far, and my family is pretty proud of me. Most of them. People will always judge you. I just keep believing in myself, because those are other people's projections of me. Only I know myself and it’s between me and the Creator. It doesn't really matter what people say about you, because your actions will always speak louder.
As told to Jamuna Galay-Tamang.

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