By Michelle Ferguson

February, known as “bear moon” or Makwa Giizis in Objibwe, is when the bears turn over in their dens.

The mama bear positions her body away from the entrance so that when her cubs are born they will be sheltered from the cold, then sleeps on through the remaining winter weeks.

And while there isn’t usually a celebration associated with the bear moon, the Mamidosewin Centre will be holding a winter festival by this name, Feb. 25-March 1.

The centre planned the festival as a way to bring life and excitement to campus during the dreary month of February — while highlighting important aboriginal customs.

The winter months are also traditionally a time for storytelling.

“I thought that’s another way to look at it: we’re sharing the story of aboriginal culture with everyone,” explained Elena Abel, events coordinator at the Mamidosewin Centre.

The winter fest is meant to be an opportunity for aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, staff and faculty to learn from each other and celebrate aboriginal culture.

“We’re trying to promote an open dialogue — a way for people to share  and celebrate,” said Abel.

The activities will be spread throughout the week and will take place in different venues around campus.

Monday’s opening activity will feature Aboriginal Experiences — a professional tourism company that has travelled the world putting on shows that depict traditional dances. The dancers will be accompanied by music and a pre-recorded narration that explains the history and the meaning of the different dances being performed on stage.

There will also be a tipi-raising activity on Monday. Students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to learn about the history of the tipi and its uses, as well as assist in setting it up.

Built with 30-foot poles, Abel stressed the importance of group work during this activity.

“I think it will be a nice culmination of what we’re trying to do here — everybody working together and learning,” she said.

The tipi will remain on the front lawn of the student commons building as a “visual reminder of all the activities that will be happening throughout the week.”

Tuesday will feature a mix of song and dance. Students will get the chance to try out some of the dances they saw the previous day, as well as learn how to throat sing.

A group of young pow wow drummers from Kitigan Zibi, a First Nations reserve located near Maniwake, Que.—where a lot of students at Algonquin originate—will accompany the dancers.

The second day will also feature an Inuit games competition, where students — aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike — will take part in “feats of strength,” such as high-kicks and balancing on one hand.

Wednesday will be themed around aboriginal food. A moose meat cooking demonstration will take place in the Mamidoswein Centre, while fire-cooked bannock will be offered in the Mamidosewin Grove, located between the Hospitality and Robert C. Gillett buildings. Students can also sign up for Bannock Idol—a bannock cooking competition.

“It’s a fun activity,” said Abel. “You get to see the creativity of our students. Someone came in with a maple bacon bannock last year, so there are some unique twists on it.”

Abel hopes that students, staff, and faculty alike won’t shy away from taking advantage of these new and unique experiences.

“When would you have a chance again to learn from somebody who has been throat singing for their whole lives?”