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Bravery was my children performing the Mi’kmaq Ko’jua dance at the Canada Games

Two dancers on a stage.

This First Person column was written by Jenene Wooldridge, a Mi’kmaw author and executive director of L’nuey, based in Epekwitk (P.E.I.). For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

When I was growing up, I didn’t see Indigenous performers or dancers in our local venues. I didn’t see stories of them sharing our culture in the media. I didn’t see them included in celebratory ceremonies. I didn’t see myself represented. In fact, I didn’t see any signs of our culture displayed anywhere.

So when my children were asked to participate in the 2023 Canada Winter Games opening ceremony on P.E.I., we saw it as an opportunity not only to share our culture with others, but also for other Indigenous people to see themselves reflected in the ceremonies and performances. 

Now nine and 11, my kids have been performing with the Mi’kmaq Heritage Actors for years and dancing at mawiomis (gatherings) since they could walk. But seeing them at the Games making connections with people from across Canada — showcasing our culture through song and dance — is an experience I’ll never forget.

The kids had prepared for the crowd at the opening ceremony, but the reality was something else altogether. The cheering, the noisemakers, the clapping coming from thousands of people was overwhelming to say the least. Just before it was time to go on stage, nerves got the better of both kids — and the fear of performing for such a large crowd started to take over.

‘As soon as the drum started, I saw them both put on their game faces,’ writes Jenene Wooldridge of her kids, Taya and Taite, performing at the Canada Winter Games opening ceremony. (Matthew Murnaghan/Canada Games Council)

Show time

My daughter, Taya, was so terrified of crying on stage that she told me she didn’t want to perform at all.

“It’s fine if you cry on the stage,” I told her. “We are all human. We all have emotions and you are here to dance and share your culture with others. Just do the best you can.”

With lots of hugs, deep breaths, words of encouragement and support from the stage manager Sylvia, Taya made her way on stage and tried to hold it together. An Alberta coach who saw Taya struggling promised to give her his team Alberta tuque. 

Eventually I watched both of my kids — filled with fear and trepidation — walk onto that big stage and comfort each other with pats on the back, head nods and a few kind words. There were a few tears shed on that stage, but the show went…

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