St. Mary’s First Nation Holds Pow Wow to Honor Family of Missing Woman

St. Mary’s First Nation is hosting a powwow on Saturday to heal after a difficult year for the Wolastoqey community and to support the family of missing community member Erin Brooks.

The event takes place at the Maqiyahtimok Center and allows community members to come together at a time when the First Nation is affected by the deaths of several people and the disappearance of Brooks.

Brooks, 38, was last seen at the First Nation’s Smoke Shop in Fredericton on the evening of Dec. 27. Police investigators said in early February they believed she may have been the victim of foul play.

“It’s very important,” community event planner Nicole Carty said of the powwow.

“We view this as a rite of passage, and we take this seriously, and it’s an honor to support families in this endeavor. But our community has struggled a lot over the past year and a half.”

Nicole Carty, community event planner from St. Mary’s First Nation in Fredericton, sits on the powwow committee. She wears a shirt with the face of missing community member Erin Brooks. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

The powwow will begin at 12 p.m. and continue until 5 p.m., followed by a take-out dinner until 7 p.m.

This is the first powwow for the First Nation in nearly a year due to security concerns related to COVID-19. Carty said the province’s move to Level 1 of its winter plan to manage the pandemic comes at a good time.

Before the powwow, a sacred fire will be lit at 7 a.m.

Then throughout the afternoon, the grand entrance will begin as the dancers come forward to bless the grounds, with head dancers Stevie Polchies and Celia Wilson and junior head dancers Farah Brooks and Hudson Wilson. Honor songs will also be performed followed by inter-tribal dances.

Carty said the day will be emotional as the powwow will also honor and honor missing and murdered Indigenous women across the country through a red dress dance competition involving female dancers.

“Usually on a red dress special, the men turn their backs on them and kind of support them,” Carty said. “It’s a sign of protection.”

Typically, a powwow with that number of events would be held over two days, Carty said, but the community felt it was important to come together now.

Tribute to Erin Brooks

A ceremonial blanket dance will be performed to honor members of Erin Brooks’ family, who will be in attendance.

A Blanket Ceremony allows the community to come together and support the family along with the Elders.

The head dancers will wear a blanket and collect cash donations while dancing and singing for the family.

Erin Brooks and her younger sister Morgan Henderson are pictured here with their youngest daughters. (Submitted by Morgan Henderson)

“It’s a very powerful moment…we’re also going to have a mental health team on hand just to help with any emotions that come with it.”

Carty has a personal connection to Brooks.

“She is a mother of four beautiful children,” Carty said. “My kids grew up with her boys and we watched her kids grow up. She was just living on the streets.

“It really shook up our community…it affects the family, but it also affects the community as a whole. We all hope she is found.”

This powwow is for the community only, but Carty said the First Nation will hold a public powwow in June and encouraged residents to come out and support the event.

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