Grass Dancer: Craig Isaac

Craig was 20 years-old when he first danced at a Pow Wow. He had been watching closely as he traveled the circuit for awhile, but he hadn’t participated until one day in Nova Scotia.

“I was a nervous wreck the whole time,” he said. “I think it was like that for the first full year.”

The first Pow Wow he danced at typically takes until 11 p.m. to get to the adults.

“You know it’s coming up, It’s like a high school speech eh,” he said. “ ‘I’m next, I’m going to be next, I’m going to be next.'”

“My coordination was horrible. I was off beat. I was stiff. But I mean – that’s most people. When you start off when you’re 20 years-old, you’re not just going to come in to it. As oppose to – you see some little kids starting off for the first time, and they just nail it right away.”

There was never any question of whether to continue or not. A drummer gave him some advice. He told him to attend some of the larger Pow Wows. Once you do that, the others don’t seem like such a big deal. He went to Schemitzun – one the biggest in North America at the time.

“When you first walk out on to the dance arena – it’s a good feeling when you look around, and you see 30 other grass dancers. Especially the ones that you’ve been watching for years.”

It wasn’t long before people began approaching Isaac, telling them that they enjoyed watching him.

“Just that stuff alone makes it all worth it,” he said. “You feel good yourself. It’s like anything else, when you’re about to do it – you’re nervous. Once you’re into the song – that all goes away.”


“Just Pow Wow alone I think is something that’s good for your spirit, your mind, your body,” said Isaac. “Song and dance no matter what style, if it’s hip-hop, R&B, when you hear a good song, it makes you feel good, right. Same thing with Pow Wow. When you’re dancing, it makes you feel good, it makes the ones watching you feel good.”

But Pow Wows are more than just dancing for Isaac.

“It’s something that I think brings families together,” he said. “Especially for me and my daughter.”

From April onward, they spend as many weekends as they can traveling. His daughter has been dancing since she could walk. And they often travel with the same group. They call them their “Pow Wow family.”

“It’s basically a big family you know, and everyone looks out for each other, and everyone helps each other out,” he said. “The kids love it, because they get to see each other every weekend. When you come home you know you’re going to see them again in a few days.”

They attend a variety of Pow Wows, both traditional and competition.

For Isaac, he enjoys the relaxed nature of a traditional Pow Wow and dancing just for the people, but he really likes competition Pow Wows.

He places often, even as an “old style” dancer.


Isaac is a grass dancer.

“It’s a dance that comes from the plains tribes. And it’s basically a dance that mimics patting down tall prairie grass,” Isaac said. “Like most of the dance styles at Pow Wows – they started to spread out across the nations.”

Like other dancers, Isaac started in the “contemporary style” and transitioned in to more of an “old style.”

“They’re both challenging in their own way,” he said.

Isaac explained that “contemporary” dancers will often incorporate all sorts of dance moves, including modern popular dance ones. It’s limited only by your creativity, he said.

“Old style is less flashy, more on the spot,” Isaac said. “Everything you do on one side, you do on the other side. It’s more smooth moving.”

And while “old style” may stay closer to a standard set of footwork, Isaac said there’s still plenty of room for individuality.

“You can transition them in your own style.”

Isaacs preference is purely aesthetic.

“I like the look of the smooth footwork.”

Isaac agreed that “old style” dances are sometimes overlooked at competitions. But an experienced judge will know what to look for. And more and more dancers are being drawn to it. He said it is “making a big comeback.”

So far this year, Isaac has placed at the majority of the competition Pow Wow’s he has attended.

The nervousness may have worn off, but the excitement definitely hasn’t. Isaac intends to keep traveling with long-time friends and family for awhile to come.

2 replies
  1. Gary Metallic sr
    Gary Metallic sr says:

    Let us also not forget also that these hard fought salmon fishing rights being enjoyed by our fishermen are a direct result of bold leadership under former Sagamaw Brenda Gedeon Miller and her newly elected council of 1992, History was made during that administration when she and her council invited the Listuguj Overseer’s Tribal Council to form an alliance to put an end to Quebec’s total control of our Salmon fisheries, and the prosecution of our fishermen for decades under their restrictive fishing agreements. Together our two respective governments met with MEF Quebec in Listuguj in the spring of 1993, and informed the Minister that there will be no more signing of their restrictive fishing agreements, and that we would jointly (LMFNG and Listuguj Tribal council) and the people and fishermen will develop our own Listuguj Salmon Fishery Law, through extensive consultations. Once the community consultations were done and the fisherman accepted the harvesting regulations and the need to hire our own Mi’gmaq Rangers to monitor and patrol our esturary, and the (LMFNG and the Tribal Council) signed the Listuguj Salmon Fishery Law, it officially became Law, and could only be amended or terminated through the same process by consultations and consent by the all parties involved. In the summer of 1993 Salmon fishery, there was no agreement with Quebec, we found monies elsewhere where we hired Rangers to monitor our fishery and sent other Rangers to Mission B.C. Justice Institute managed by Jim Maloney, a Mi’gmaq Martial Arts, Police, and Rangers Instructor from Shubenacadie to be trained to protect our territory and jurisdiction from D.F.O. and Quebec MEF Wardens. The reason for our Salmon Fishery being a model that was sought after by several first nations across the country and winning awards from the non native Salmon Clubs, was a result of not having the Rangers monitoring and patrolling our Salmon Fishery, it was because our own Mi’gmaq fishermen monitored themselves in practicing conservation, by not fishing on off days, and staying away from the bottle neck area’s, where the river narrows, this way D.F.O. and MEF Quebec and N.B. Natural resources could not say that conservation was not being practiced. Once the Salmon Fishery was stable, we then together focused our attention to the commercial fishery of Lobster and Snow crab, the Tribal Council issued Lobster licenses to harvest Lobster around the Carleton and Miguasha coasts, these licenses withstood the challenges of D.F.O. agents who questioned the validity of these District Mi’gmaq issued licenses, by the LMFNG and The Listuguj Tribal council. Once they saw that it was an Aboriginal rights issue they backed off and left our Lobster fishermen alone, this was the first time in history that our community of Listuguj had fished for lobster which had long been dominated and enjoyed by the non natives in the Carleton and Miguasha area, we faced fierce opposition in the beginning, they would vandalize our traps, make threats to our fishermen that they would be assaulted when they landed their boats at the Miguasha wharf. On one such occasion I received a call from our fisherman saying that he could not come ashore because there was a mob of non native lobster fishermen waiting at the Miguasha Wharf for them, I immediately went to all of our construction projects in our community and told the workers that we needed to go help our fisherman in Miguasha because were being threatened, everyone dropped what they were doing and we headed to Miguasha Wharf with three loaded vans and cars, when the non native fishermen saw those loaded vans with our men heading towards the Wharf, they scattered like cockroaches when you open the lights, that was the end of their intimidation and our fishermen were left alone form then on. And last we tackled the snow crab allocation at that time that was allotted by D.F.O. which was peanuts compared to what the non native crabbers allocations were, and demand that they raise these quotas to a more realistic figure where our community members would benefit from this crab fishery, which they did, but were still low, until the Supreme Court ruling in the Donald Marshall case which kicked the doors down on their racist policies of allocations when it came to Aboriginal peoples who were trying to make a modest living, unfortunately greed overtook the needs of our people who depended on making that modest living to feed their families. Dr Fred talks about the cultural revitalization and recognition of our political rights, I say these are our peoples rights, and further adds “today we manage 10 to 12 vessels, with millions of pounds of fish allocations” Indeed you do, and this is the historical background which I’m sharing that was responsible for your handling these 10-12 vessels and millions of pounds of fish that belong to our people, so let us not forget about that while we remember. And further let us not forget about our own fisherwomen and men who risk their lives in harvesting these millions of pounds of fish for our people, and the ones who lost their lives, and our people and Salmon Fisherwomen and men who made our Salmon Fishery a success, and last but not forgotten, let us not forget a great and humble Mi’gmaq fisherman Donald Marshall jr, who through his tenacity refused to accept that as Mi’gmaq we were less than the non native commercial fishermen, and that our fair share be afforded to our people, Welaliog


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