Hay River played host to an old tradition over the weekend when the Biggest Fiddling and Jigging Championship North of 60 touched down at the Don Stewart Recreation Centre on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
“We used to run this event every year,” said Ron Auger, president of the board of directors for the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, the group hosting the event. “We had to stop for a few years, but it’s great to see everybody back for this competition.”
There were six categories: senior, adult, and youth, in both fiddling and jigging, with cash prizes totalling $10,000 awarded to the top three competitors in each.
“It’s a competition, but it’s also a great cultural event where people can socialize for the weekend and get to see everyone,” Auger said.
The championship drew people from Kakisa, Fort Resolution, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Yellowknife, and Alberta and British Columbia. Although the numbers were not yet tallied, Auger estimated approximately 1,000 people participated in the weekend’s events in one way or another, either as competitors or spectators.
“A lot of them are from Hay River,” he admitted. “But there are still a lot of people in from out of town for this. We’re really happy to be putting it on again.”
One of the highlights of this year’s event was the presence of Beverly Lambert, cultural ambassador for the Metis Nation of British Columbia and an expert jigger, who was on hand to help teach younger dancers about the activity, and also the cultural and spiritual components behind it.
“It’s about bringing people together,” she told The Hub. “I’m here to make sure (the kids) have a good time and to get them dancing their traditional dances again.”
Lambert travels from town to town across the country encouraging Aboriginal children to learn about their history and culture through physical activity and dance. She also supports the musicians who she said are the soul of her people, and, without whom, there would be no dancing.
“It’s about giving kids their pride back,” said Lambert. “When they have no pride in their culture or sense of their past, that’s when they can turn to drugs, alcohol and violence. I go around teaching them to dance so they can take back that sense of identity and spirituality.”
Having attended the competition in the past, Lambert said she is pleased to see it coming back to life after a five-year hiatus.
“I used to come here years ago,” she said. “I hope people start coming back. Every time I’m in the North, it just feels like home.”
While Lambert’s quest is to bring back jigging as part of a greater cultural awareness, there were some at the championship who had evidently never lost it.
Yellowknife’s Myra Conrad said not only has she been jigging since before she could remember – although she did remember getting a quarter from a relative every time she danced – she encourages her 19-month-old son Ethan to jig, too.
“I jig for Ethan every day,” she said. “When he plays with his toys, he makes them jig, too.”
— Sarah Ladik