The Covid-19 pandemic has not slowed down the fancy feet of folks in the Mackenzie Delta, Northwest Territories as eager community members honour the longstanding traditions of the Peel River Jamboree.
The yearly event has moved online to respect the territory’s orders around physical distancing.
Organizer Sierra Daley in the hamlet of Fort McPherson, where the jamboree takes place, said the committee had considered postponing it to later on in the year, but recognized that having the events now would bolster community spirit.
“Our contestants have been fundraising since January. We were a little bit disappointed that we weren’t going to be able to have our jamboree and give back to the community, thanking them for all the hard work they had done,” Daley said.
Residents of the Mackenzie Delta responded with enthusiasm and in just three days the jigging contest drew 184 contestants from the region with cash prizes handed out to first second and third place winners in eight categories.
A group of judges evaluated each entry tallying up scores.
Deborah Peterson from Fort McPherson started dancing at a young age. Now her son follows in her footsteps.
Peterson took home the first place award in the women’s 16-30 category while her son came out with a first in the five and under category.
“I get kind of an adrenaline rush because the crowd can be so big and being up against a lot of good jiggers around the delta you just really have to give it all you got,” Peterson said.
She looked back in fondness to a jigging contest in her community that drew 25 couples for a minute long jig, all vying for the thousand-dollar cash prize. Even though the events look a little different this year, Peterson said she was happy to see the creativity and familiar landscapes of dancer showing off their moves on ice roads.
“We are facing many challenges as we are a close knit community. Not being able to be with our families, we video chat with our grandparents daily and our family but that just isn’t as good as being with one another. The online talent shows and jigging contests right now are amazing. Just being able to still be connected from our homes is comforting,” she said.
With the help of his family Fredrick Arey learned how to jig and also was able to enter the contest where he scored first place in the 31-49 men’s category.
“There was a lot of entries and a lot of talent out there. I have to thank my two oldest nieces I asked them to help me out to post the video. I love them with all my heart,”he said.
Arey who lives in Aklavik, an isolated community accessible by ice road noted that the restrictions on travel and gatherings in the north because of the pandemic have made this spring challenging for some.
“Normally jamboree is 500-600 people in the arena all coming together, this year is completely different. For me as a social individual I am not doing too good, I just have to keep busy all the time. Luckily my family is taking advantage of going on the land because it’s muskrat trapping season,” Arey said.
The online jigging event was just one of several online contests during the month of April hosted by the Jamboree committee.
Sierra said her team is thinking of ways to move regular events like the snowmobile race, tea boil and talent show online.
“Across the world we are expecting to see issues with mental and emotional health rise because people aren’t able to go out and socialize. So having these social events people can participate from a distance will help,” she said.