SASKATOON — Patrick Mitsuing wants to educate everyone — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — on the history and traditions of First Nations Peoples. He hopes his last month’s historic Super Bowl performance would open up more conversations about their culture, especially the dances their ancestors had passed on to individual performers like him.
Mitsuing, a former track and field athlete, said he had been a performer for the last 30 years and he looks forward to people asking and learning more about the history of Indigenous Peoples in the country.
“[Hopefully] more people are going to ask more questions about Indigenous People, learn more about their histories, we will have more presentations at big events like the Super Bowl and get further along with the process of Truth and Reconciliation,” Mitsuing told SASKTODAY.ca.
“They say every dancer tells a story. I was a track and field sprinter and jumper. I was also a break dancer when my late uncle Roy took me to a powwow for the first time; I fell instantly in love with the Men's Fancy Feather Dance Style.”
He learned how to be a fancy dancer and had no trouble transitioning as he saw similarities in other mainstream dances and used his skills as a track and field athlete to his advantage. He quickly learned the moves and became a champion dancer in joining powwow competitions.
“I saw dancers go fast as sprinters do in track and field. I saw these dancers jump with their full regalia making intricate moves and expressing themselves beautifully. I saw break dance moves, tap dance, ballet, hip hop, and all those moves in this old traditional dance style,” said Mitsuing.
The onset of the online video-sharing platform YouTube also helped him develop his dancing style after seeing and mimicking different movements and combinations of other champion dancers from the USA and Canada.
He credits his late uncle Roy, who raised him with his aunt Irene Nicotine, and his brother Nathan for introducing him to Indigenous dances and then being mentored by Dusting Strongarm and Preston Littleton, who became his friends.
“I didn't grow up with my parents, my uncles and aunties became my dads and moms to me. When I was eight, I moved into my late uncle Roy and auntie Irene’s house,” said Mitsuing.
“They were very traditional people. Ceremony was a big part of life. We went to sun and round dances and sweat lodge, and every summer was Powwow Season. That way of life became part of my life and it is now a lifestyle I still live and my kids do now.”
He is now passing on the culture and traditions, like speaking the Cree language, he learned from his second parents to his kids and other Indigenous youth to reclaim their Indigenous identity after decades of being silenced.
Mitsuing added that performing in a grand event like the Super Bowl gave Indigenous culture much exposure since many young kids — Indigenous and non-Indigenous —watched him dance on a big stage and saw its connection and importance to their culture.
“[The] Super Bowl was a neat experience. It was a mix of taking in a new incredible experience and also seeing the landscape of how much our culture is not understood. We performed and had many people ask questions because they had never seen it before,” said Mitsuing.
He added that it was mesmerizing to see the size of the crowd at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona and the energy they exhibited, inspiring him to perform at his best as he sees it as an excellent opportunity to promote Indigenous culture.
“The number of people at the event was mind-boggling and you could feel the crowd’s energy for the game and everything happening. I do smaller events with Powwow Times, so I was geeking out about how they organized everything and all that was going on. I realized also this was an amazing opportunity to be part of history and that I believe more representation and engagement will happen with all major events,” said Mitsuing.
“You do all you can to create opportunities for the young to participate in dancing. We host community nights in Red Deer and many kids come out to learn. We provide resources to get them regalia and even take them to Powwows. You have to be a good role model to the next generation. Teach the next generation as much as possible, and carry yourself well because the youth are always watching.”