K’amba Carnival set to kick off

Jared Monkman/NNSL photo Ira Cayen, left, Monique Graham, and Marcel Frise race across the Chief Lamalice Complex parking lot on the second day of K'amba Carnival in March last year.

Jared Monkman/NNSL photo
Ira Cayen, left, Monique Graham, and Marcel Frise race across the Chief Lamalice Complex parking lot on the second day of K’amba Carnival in March last year.

The K’atl’odeeche First Nation’s carnival is quickly approaching, marking its 34th year.

K’amba Carnival is an annual celebration of the coming spring, with a weekend full of traditional Dene events such as hand games, fish eating competitions, talent shows, tea boiling, dog sledding and various sport events.

Diane Tourangeau, chairperson of the K’amba Carnival, has been organizing the event for 34 years – since its inception.

“We realized there was nothing going on in town,” said Tourangeau of the carnival’s beginnings 34 years ago. “The Ookpik festival was cancelled but we still wanted something to do.”

The Ookpik festival had been held on Great Slave Lake to celebrate Inuit culture.

She and her uncle, Fred Martel; her husband, John Paul Tourangeau; and Rachel Tambour put a small event in motion.

“We borrowed $300 from the band and did a few little kids events, some adult events and a canteen. We made so much on the canteen we were able to pay the band back right away and we kept going with a talent show and a drum dance,” she recalled. “It went really well so we decided to do it again next year and find a name for it. K’amba in our language means ptarmigan.”

In its early days, the carnival used to have a prince and princess for the event but in recent years the event has had a queen as the designated celebrity. Young ladies compete in selling raffle tickets and the contestant who sells the most is crowned queen of the year’s festivities. The queen gets adorned in a traditional handcrafted cape and tiara and is responsible for handing out awards and trophies at the events.

Attendance for the event is up and down year to year, according to Tourangeau. Three years ago, the hand games in Yellowknife drew some of her regular competitors farther north. Now this year, the Polar Pond Hockey challenge will be happening on the same weekend as the carnival. But Tourangeau is positive the event will still be popular.

This year, Tourangeau said a fresh act is in store for carnival attendees.

“We’ve got a group coming from down south called the Magoo Crew,” she said. “They do rap dancing, and address some issues like bullying. It should be good for the youth.”

The group will be hosting a youth dance and act as master of ceremonies for the talent show.

Tourangeau said a lot of effort goes into planning the event each year but having done it for 34 years, she and her team are a well-oiled machine.

“It is a lot of effort and hours but we people help out too,” she said. “I’m trying to recruit some more young people because I can’t do this forever. We also need someone to take over organizing the dog races eventually.”

Tourangeau said the cash prizes for events continue to draw a crowd for the carnival each year.

“Our community is central, and people come in from all over to participate,” she said. “It helps that there are prizes too.”

This year’s carnival will be dedicated to Tourangeau’s late husband, John Paul Tourangeau.

“It’s my way to thank him for all the years he helped out,” she said.

Hay River town council was expected to vote Feb. 22 on whether to declare a half-day civic holiday the afternoon of March 4 to mark the beginning of the event. The council meeting happened after press time.

–Diana Yeager