About a thousand turned out for the K’amba Carnival on the Hay River Reserve this past weekend with every event packed and spirits running high.
“It’s just been incredible,” said organizing committee chair Doug Lamalice. “It’s the biggest, best turnout we’ve ever had.”
Events from dog-sledding to talent shows and skills competitions ran from Thursday through Sunday, with a good mix of food, music, and dance to round out the experience. Lamalice said every activity drew crowds and compliments.
“There were a lot of elders there, a lot of people of all ages and we got a lot of good comments,” he said. “It’s all about culture and coming together as a community and feeling strong.”
With a massive increase in participation from last year, youth events were a big hit. Children and teenagers competed in sled-pulling and snowshoe races behind Chief Lamalice Complex on Friday morning, while crowd of spectators gathered around.
“It’s awesome to be competing,” said Chandelle Leonard, who was part of a winning jigging team at the youth talent show the night before.
Her friend Madison Beck agreed, saying that she was glad to see there were lots of events in with to participate.
“The youth games really bring out the crowds,” said organizer Irene Graham. “And that’s the most important thing for this kind of event.”
Fellow-organizer Josie Tourangeau said the cold weather last year prevented many people from both competing and coming out to watch but that this year’s the mild temperature really shored up the numbers.
“It’s really nice to get a big turnout for these events,” she said. “It just makes it more enjoyable.”
One of the most important traditions for the carnival is the crowning of a new K’amba Queen on the first night. This year, Shania Pierre took over from past-queen Leah Cayen and said it was a lot of work but that she was preening under all the attention.
“I feel really excited and happy,” she said, adding that she worked hard to go door-to-door to sell tickets. “It does take some dedication to get here.”
Pierre said that she would be competing in some of the youth events but that her favourite part of carnival was watching them, especially the jigging.
As well as the carnival went this year, Lamalice has plans to improve it next year with the addition of a traditional garment fashion show. The show was supposed to debut last weekend but Lamalice cancelled the event when a few key people had to drop out.
“I didn’t want something to be half-done,” he said, adding that the traditional culture component was a massive part of the weekend.
“It’s a time for competition, a time for fellowship,” he said. “But it’s also really a time to reflect and feel yourself as a Dene person.”