Located at a new venue, the 40th-annual Manitou Fish Fry was a great success Friday.
This was the first time the fish fry was hosted at the new pow-wow grounds at Rainy River First Nations.
“I think it went well because of more facilities and it went smoothly,” said RRFN Chief Jim Leonard.
“We have usually had a little bit more people, but I think it’s been the weather—the last few days it’s been cold—but there are still people coming in,” he added.
Organizers could not ask for a better weather turnaround. It had been raining a few hours before the start of the event, but the skies cleared off and the sun came out.
Dean Wilson, manager of administration for Rainy River First Nations, said they first started talking about building a new pow-wow ground 20 years ago before finally starting to go for it last year.
“The elders have talked about it for 20 plus years that they wanted a facility,” Wilson noted.
“Our old pow-wow grounds were in the community,” he said. “It was smaller and our pow-wows had been fairly well-attended, but they wanted a new facility.
“Last year, our pow-wow was fairly well-attended and this year we figure we will double in size,” he added.
The grounds came with a price tag of about $750,000, with Wilson noting it was paid for entirely with reserve funds.
“We did receive a sizable land claim in 2005 and not one dollar came from that land claim to build this,” he indicated.
“We built it with dollars we generated through fees and good money management.”
Wilson said some reserve funds were used to build the facility.
“But we felt in the long-term, it’s a benefit for everybody and that people would come here, learn about our community . . . come and attend our pow-wows.
“And anytime we can use those things to help teach people, and not only other people but also our own people.”
Wilson said the goal of the fish fry is to help promote their culture to not only outside communities, but also to fellow First Nations.
“The meaning of the event is to promote and celebrate our culture and invite people to come,” he enthused.
“I get a lot of people [non-natives] who come up and be like, ‘Can I come to a pow-wow?’ and I always say to them, ‘Yeah, you can come, it’s not taboo. You don’t have to be invited.’”
Wilson said one of their community leaders came to him last summer and said, “We don’t have any signs welcoming people, saying welcome to our community.”
“I’ve never seen signs up in First Nation communities saying welcome to our community,” noted Wilson.
“So we put signs up on each road coming in saying, ‘Welcome to the Rainy River First Nations,’ because we want people here to feel welcome.
“And they can come here, share in these kinds of things, and enjoy a good meal.”
Wilson said Rainy River First Nations loses between $15,000 and $20,000 every year because they don’t charge admission to the fish fry (although donations are welcome).
“But the goal is to bring people together and promote their culture,” he stressed.
Even with the revenue loss, Wilson added they don’t advertise the fish fry.
“We have never tried to commercialize this. It’s never been put in the papers saying fish fry,” he explained.
“It’s just been word of mouth—even with our change of venue.
“We sent out invitations, but it’s really word of mouth to get it around.”
Wilson said the pow-wow grounds have brought the seven First Nations’ communities closer together, as well as other local municipalities.
“The idea came about as the seven sides of the facility and the representing of the seven communities,” he noted.
“The idea is we have now come together as the Rainy River First Nations.
“I think it’s helped with the relationships with local
municipalities and local people, which never hurts.”
Wilson estimated this year’s fish fry attracted 400-500 people of all ages.
“You see all the kids running around having a good time,” he remarked. “Really that’s what it’s all about for the them and they will be the next generation that will carry this one.
“Whenever I’m gone, or whenever someone else is gone, they will carry this on,” he stressed.