Manitoba’s Manito Ahbee festival a celebration of Indigenous culture for all

Canada’s largest Indigenous festival kicked off Thursday in Winnipeg, and organizers say it’s a cultural experience all people can enjoy.

Although the long-running festival is best known for its flagship event — the largest powwow in Canada — as well as sports competitions, a creators’ marketplace, and multicultural food vendors, Manito Ahbee 2023 is introducing a number of new features, including NexGen, a youth empowerment ceremony.

The festival’s Traci Leost told Global Winnipeg that one of the goals of NexGen, which took place Thursday morning at the Red River Exhibition Grounds, is to inspire Indigenous youth.

“The messaging is to leave them with a sense of pride and inspiration and hope,” Leost said, “that there are a lot of Indigenous folks out there that they can look up to that are welcoming them into this circle and inspiring them to reclaim their power, use their voice and take up space that is rightfully theirs in their communities and their schools.

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“It’s all about planting that seed of hope and inspiration that they can be like all of the amazing folks that are onstage.”

Click to play video: 'Red Road Runway coming to Manito Ahbee Festival'

Red Road Runway coming to Manito Ahbee Festival

Another new addition for 2023: the Red Road Runway, a fashion show featuring Indigenous designers and models from across the continent.

“We have six different designers coming in, they’re from here in Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan,” the festival’s Bethany Wilson said about Friday’s fashion event.

“We have models from all across Turtle Island as well … and actually a lot of the models haven’t modeled before — so I’m really excited that we could give an opportunity for people who maybe didn’t think they could do something like this, but they took a step out and took a chance.

“We’re all from all over, so to bring our communities together shows unity — it shows we’re all different but we accept one another. We want to just show unity.

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“We really want people to come together and know that you are accepted here, that this is a place for all people.”

The province announced funding for Manito Ahbee to the tune of $370,000 Thursday, with Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister Eileen Clarke calling it an opportunity for Manitobans to unite.

“The festival is a great opportunity for Manitobans to gather and appreciate Indigenous arts and music,” said Clarke in a statement.

“Manito Ahbee offers cultural experiences and education uniting all visitors in a wonderful way to celebrate and honour Indigenous traditions.”

The festival runs through Monday at Exhibition Park, with a long list of family-friendly events, including the two-day powwow, live performances, a tipi-raising contest, and the Indian horse relay race, which will be held at the Assiniboia Downs racetrack Monday afternoon.

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Manito Ahbee executive director Lisa Meeches said it’s an exciting, high-speed race.

“What happens is these riders are riding bareback in their regalia on this horse, so they have to go four rounds and switch horses, so you’re jumping off at high speed, jumping on another horse … it’s an extreme sport.”

More information about the weekend’s events is available at the Manito Ahbee website.

Click to play video: 'Miss Manito Ahbee sharing pride, culture at 18th annual Manito Ahbee Festival'

Miss Manito Ahbee sharing pride, culture at 18th annual Manito Ahbee Festival

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