TRURO - Justin Stewart-Meuse gently places a potato
between his and his friend's forehead, put his arms out to the sides and gently begins to dance.
Despite dropping the potato within less than a minute, and ending his dance, the teenager was pleased with his effort. Stewart-Meuse, 13, of Bible Hill, was one of about 400 people who participated in a number of fun dances during the sixth annual Mawi'omi at the Nova Scotia Community College in Truro.
The event celebrates First Nations culture and people through exhibitions of drumming and dancing as well as a display of crafts. Participants came from throughout Nova Scotia, PEI and New Brunswick.
Stewart-Meuse said there is great significance in the event.
"This is to bring our people together and show that we are still here. Hopefully people watching would think, ‘wow, this is creative,'" said Stewart-Meuse shortly after doing the potato dance with 16-year-old Thomasie Padlayat of Bear River.
"I've been doing this since I was a baby. My favourite is the dancing. It's exhilarating and it's good to get everybody to come out," said Stewart-Meuse, adding a cultural event such as the Mawi'omi may reduce stigma and misconceptions about different cultures.
"It probably helps make it a better place and not as stereotypical" when people are educated about various cultures and beliefs, he said.
Padlayat said it was his first time participating in a Mawi'omi dance.
"It's pretty fun ... and it's fun to learn different cultures and their styles and why they do them," said Padlayat.
Millbrook resident Josee is a recreation leadership program student at the college. Josee takes every opportunity possible to embrace and educate others on native traditions.
"This is all about the kids and it's fun and traditional," said Josee. "Whether it's native or not, there is a severe lack of pride in people today. We have to get the youth on the right path right away ... because if they don't embrace their ancestry it could create shame and doubt."
Despite not having prevalent native ancestry, Truro's Mandi Arnold often attends the event. She hopes future Mawi'omi gatherings will draw more non-natives.
"It's nice to see a lot of school children, but it'd be nice to see more adults from the community come," said Arnold, who has been going to the cultural event for four years.
She said the music and dancing are mesmerizing.
"They speak to my soul," she said.
Arnold said it's important for communities to hold such events so diversity is not lost.
"If we didn't embrace our diversities, whether it's culture, religion, families, people would be losing that (special) piece of themselves," she said.