Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The lands around Prince Albert, Sask. have heard the drums and felt the dancing feet of First Nations people for millennia. Rimara Smallboy of Big River First Nation continues the tradition as a talented fancy shawl dancer.
“I’m honoured to be a part of bringing back our traditions,” said Rimara, a quiet girl, humble and modest in her communication.
She started to dance when she was four years old. It was important to offer the healthy foundation of culture, said her mother Leanne.
Now 15 years old, and with the seeds of culture carefully planted and nurtured by her parents Leanne and Mike Bear, Rimara has strong and sturdy Indigenous roots. She’s a dancer to her core, whether she’s walking down the halls of Carlton Comprehensive High School, picking medicine along the roadsides or beading.
Leanne has worked in corrections as an addictions counsellor and with the homeless for a total of 30 years. She’s had many clients who have shared their sorrow about not having cultural connections. She saw a pattern in this, and the healing that happens when reconnection is made.
“Working with clients and people with addictions and homelessness, a lot of them strive to know more about their culture. And in hearing their stories, they would say, ‘I wish I belonged’,” said Leanne.
That connection is what she and Mike dearly want for Rimara. Beading, drumming and dancing were introduced early.
“I remember her so little at first, practicing. When she dances, I remember all of that,” Mike said. “I hope she holds on to her dancing, her culture. Every morning I tell her I’m proud of her, and drop her off to school.”
Mike grew up with strong roots. “I started going to sweats when I was eight or nine years old. I try to show her the way.”
Along with culture, the ‘way’ means focusing on education and planning for a career. Mike takes care to mentor his daughter in the life skills she’ll need. Their most recent lesson was about managing payments and bills, he said.
Rimara has been performing since she started learning to drum and dance. She was initiated into the powwow circuit in a ceremony at Northern Lights Powwow five years ago. She has won awards, and is currently nominated in the Prince Albert Best of the Best (BOB) awards.
Her name is in two categories: “Entertainment: Best Local Dancer”, and “Local Goodness: Best Local Girl Made Good.” The awards have been running for eight years. The public can vote for their choice in each of many categories every day until Dec. 5 at PAbobawards.
When Rimara dances, she feels the audience’s enthusiasm and joy, she said. And she hears about her dancing afterward as people come to her to express their gratitude and give encouragement.
“Elders come and thank me after I dance,” she said. Leanne and Mike take pride in Rimara finding and bringing light.
Sometimes Rimara smiles as she dances, but mostly she’s very focused, she said.
She danced during a photo shoot at Kinsmen Park recently, and the public watched and cheered her on. Rimara heard the cheers and kept dancing. Her mom heard more closely what they were calling out to her daughter. ‘Never cut your hair!, ‘Don’t ever stop dancing!’, and ‘We wish we were involved in our culture at your age.’ It was very powerful and intense, Leanne recalled.
With recognition comes responsibility, Rimara has learned. At her moon ceremony, a teacher took care to explain this to her. It’s a little scary, Rimara said. This feels like confirmation to her parents, however, that Rimara understands the seriousness of leading by example.
Mike and Leanne focus on positives, and it’s working for their family. Rimara doesn’t boast about her skills. She conducts herself with humility. She dances for her family and her community.
“I’m very honoured to be able to have these opportunities that others didn’t, as it was taken from them,” said Rimara.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.