Every year in April, thousands of Indigenous people across from North America travel to Albuquerque, N.M. for the Gathering of Nations powwow.

 Billed as the biggest powwow in the world, it also features a well-known pageant, Miss Indian World — and this year, Winnipeg's own Shanley Spence will be vying for the crown.

"I just hope that I make everyone proud and that I bring the title home to Winnipeg," said Spence, who will participate in the competition beginning April 27. Spence is Swampy Cree/Anishinaabe with roots in the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation and Lake St. Martin, Man. She went to the Gathering of Nations powwow last year but has been watching the annual powwow, and dancing, for a long time.

"I've been fancy-shawl dancing since I could walk," she said.

She started hoop dancing 10 years ago and has since performed across North America. The Miss Indian World pageant is a five-day competition, with the winner selected based on the contestants' knowledge of their people, culture and history. Spence is an in-demand hoop dancer, often invited to schools to perform and share her teachings on what the hoop dance means to her.

"I was told that it depends on where you come from — which community or nation that you come from, because there's so many different teachings and histories and meanings attached to it," she said. "The teachings that I was given though, was the healing purposes — bringing healing to yourself as a dancer."

In hoop dancing, dancers tell a story with their hoops. Each dance can have as few as five hoops or as many as 35. She has been working on her own language skills to help prepare for the public speaking portion of the competition.

"I'm meeting with elders. Working on my language so I can say certain phrases introduce myself better in the Cree language," said Spence. Volunteer, mentor, Folklorama ambassador

She also dedicates time to volunteering in her community as a mentor for Indigenous youth, teaching them self-confidence, the importance of healthy relationships and hoop dancing.

"At one point, I was doing three programs a week. But one of them had just ended, that was with the Manitoba Youth Centre. Teaching them basic powwow steps," said Spence.

She also serves as a cultural ambassador for Winnipeg's Folklorama festival, and gets invited to speak and perform at schools throughout the year — "educating wide audiences on my identity as a First Nations person and the realities that we face here in Canada and our city as well," she said.

Spence is part of the generation of Indigenous women who are educated in western society, but firmly rooted in their culture. She is a student at the University of Winnipeg and is set to graduate this spring with a major in international development.

"I really enjoy the degree that I got in school — international development. I hope to work within Indigenous communities and work through grassroots development, grassroots Indigenous development."

Be true to who you are, Spence says

Winners of the Miss Indian World title are awarded prize money and are invited to speak at events across North America. Spence said if she wins, her message will include empowering Indigenous youth, raising awareness on mental health issues, and talking about the violence that still plagues Indigenous communities. But she also hopes to continue to inspire youth on a larger platform, saying "reclaiming our culture and being proud about it … relearning the language, reclaiming those teachings," are priorities for her.

And she says the most important advice she can offer is to "[Find] out who you are and where you come from, and [be] true to that."

Responses to "Anishinaabe Hoop dancer Shanley Spence vying for Miss Indian World title"

Write a comment