December 13, 2019

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Asham Stompers ready to make some noise

Group's leader organizes Métis Pavilion at Folklorama

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Arnold Asham, Métis Pavilion co-ordinator at Folklorama, prepares Friday to open the group’s pavilion at the Heather Curling Club for the festival, which kicks off Sunday.</p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Arnold Asham, Métis Pavilion co-ordinator at Folklorama, prepares Friday to open the group’s pavilion at the Heather Curling Club for the festival, which kicks off Sunday.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/8/2018 (496 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The first week of Folklorama is just days away, and the Heather Curling Club is being transformed into a Canadian winter wonderland. For seven days, it will be home to the brand-new Métis Pavilion.

"I didn’t tag that bear," Arnold Asham says, amid whirring power tools, referring to the giant polar bear skin that serves as the stage’s backdrop. "I won it in a bonspiel."

Advance tickets online

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For the first time, Folklorama-goers will be able to purchase advance tickets online at folklorama.ca.

Tickets are for specific pavilions, dates, and showtimes for all 43 pavilions.

“We are encouraging guests to buy online tickets in advance to make their festival experience customized and convenient," said acting executive director Teresa Cotroneo in a release. "Waiting in line to get into a particular show is a thing of the past as guests are guaranteed entrance to the showtime they purchase tickets for.”

Online ticket sales will remain open until one hour before each show. Any remaining tickets will be available at the door.

General-admission tickets are $6 plus service fee. Children under 12 are granted free admission when accompanied by an adult. A pack of 12 tickets can also be purchased online for the price of nine tickets — $54 plus fee.

Asham, 68, is a former professional curler and the founder of Asham Curling Supplies, one of Manitoba’s most successful Métis-owned businesses. He’s also the founder of the Asham Stompers, the Métis dance group which performs over 100 shows a year and even has its own festival, Stomperfest, which takes place over the September long weekend.

Now, he can add Métis Pavilion co-ordinator on his resumé.

"I’d been looking at doing this for 10 years probably," says Asham, who used to attend the former Métis People Pavilion, operated by the Indian & Métis Friendship Centre, and would always leave inspired. "I thought, ‘My God, I’d love to do that.’"

Naturally, the Asham Stompers will be the marquee act at the new Métis Pavilion.

"We were never worried about the entertainment part of it," he says with a laugh.

The incendiary group, which has earned standing ovations all over the world, combines the traditional Red River Jig with square dancing. It’s a dance that dates back to Canada’s fur-trade era.

"The fur traders used to go whipping down the Red River on their dogsleds laden with furs in the middle of winter, and they wouldn’t stop at the Métis colonies," Asham says. "The Métis people developed this dance, they went down to the bank and did this dance. The fur traders stopped for a few minutes, then a few hours, then overnight. Eventually, it turned into a 10-day festival very similar to Festival du Voyageur. These fur traders — the Irish, the Scottish, the French, the English — they all loved the parties the Métis people threw where they’d dance until almost dawn, with new dancers replacing the exhausted dancers every few minutes. It wasn’t unheard of for dancers to wear out a pair of moccasins in a single night."

It’s precisely that kind of party the Métis Pavilion hopes to emulate. The Asham Stompers has multiple World Jigging Champions in its ranks — including Ryan Richard and Felicia Morrisseau — and Asham says they’re going all out with music, with a five-piece band that includes two fiddlers and an organist.

And then, of course, there’s the food. Pavilion attendees can nosh on bannock, bison stew and pickerel chowder.

"We all grew up on Lake Manitoba where we fished all winter long," Asham says. "Of course, we had to have bologna on the menu, so we’ll have that with fried bread."

Moose Milk — a creamy mixture of dark rum, vodka, ice cream and milk — will also be served.

The Asham Stompers are dedicated to cultural preservation, which makes them a perfect fit for a festival such as Folklorama.

Asham is a fierce champion of Métis culture, in part because he, like many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, didn’t grow up with it.

It wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he identified as Métis.

"I could never figure out why my dad would never admit we were Indian — and I’m saying Indian because that’s what it was in those days," he says. "Until I got more educated, I didn’t realize why. You weren’t allowed to own private property and he already had private property, plus he had four kids, and if you admitted you were Aboriginal, you could have your kids taken away and put in residential schools.

"I think I was 13 years old when Aboriginal people were made citizens of our own country and allowed to vote. We think that’s the reason a lot of these kids are living with no self-esteem."

Dismayed by the sky-high rates of suicide and incarceration among Indigenous youth in our country, Asham formed the Asham Stompers as a way to bring hope to kids growing up in communities that are suffering. It’s important, he says, that youth see examples of success, as well as of their culture being not only embraced, but celebrated. He points to fellow dance troupe Sagkeeng’s Finest, who won Canada’s Got Talent TV contest in 2012.

"It’s a huge inspiration to the kids in the community," he says. "We can bring hope to the kids in the community by showing them we can take something right out of the community, which is the fiddle and the jig, and take it to a world stage. We show them that you can be successful.

"We think we’re saving lives out there," he says. "I’ve sold a lot of great curling equipment for a number of years, probably one of the biggest suppliers in the world. Yes, we supplied great product and it was very purposeful, but here we think we’re saving lives.

"When you see these young kids coming through — and I’ve been doing this 18 years so I’ve seen it — by the end of it all, there’s no doubt we’re changing lives and saving lives."

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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