Since Sierra Daley created an online jigging contest for Fort McPherson and beyond, nearly 200 entries have streamed in from bouncy toddlers, teens, adults, and Elders.
With spring coming to the Mackenzie Delta, it is usually a time to visit surrounding communities and partake in celebrations like the Fort McPherson Peel River Jamboree.
The jamboree has been cancelled due to Covid-19, but that hasn’t stopped the jigging.
A high school teacher in Fort McPherson, Daley started her virtual jigging contest on Monday. By the time it closed there were 183 entries.
She has since been combing through the videos.
They feature toddlers bumping up and down in handmade slippers, gleeful children jigging on the ice, and adults of all ages doing their best. The category with the most entries is for children aged five and under.
“Seeing all those videos of people all around the Delta posting stuff, it makes you so happy you almost want to cry,” Daley said. Fort McPherson, she explained, is usually a very social community with lots of laughter and visiting. Right now, she said, it feels like a ghost town.
“We all have this new normal that we’re trying to adjust to and we can’t get out and be social with people. This is just giving a chance for people across the Mackenzie Delta to interact with each other and still show off cultural stuff,” Daley said of the contest.
“Our newsfeeds on Facebook have been filled with everything Covid-19 and it’s a stressful time right now for everyone. Just since Monday, videos of jigging is filling my newsfeed now.”
The shoes Bertha made
Justine Vittrekwa, whose video shows her jigging on the frozen-over Peel River, dedicated her jig to her late ‘jijuu’ (grandmother) Bertha Francis.
Vittrekwa went out, chose a spot on the Peel with nice scenery in the background, and started to jig in the slippers Bertha made her shortly before she passed away.
“It was slippery, I slipped a couple of times,” Vittrekwa said. It took the 16-year-old a few tries before she finished her video.
It had always been Vittrekwa’s jijuu’s wish to see her jig, she said, but she passed away at the end of January and didn’t get to see it. “She made me jijuu shoes, maybe because she just wanted to see me jig really bad. So I just thought, I might as well just jig,” Vittrekwa remembers.
Sixteen-year-old Justine Vittrekwa, left, with her late jijuu Bertha Francis. Vittrekwa dedicated her jig to her jijuu and danced in shoes made by her.
Bertha made Michael Francis around 40 pairs of slippers, which he treasures. Pictured are half of his fleet.
“She was always there to talk to and always there to make you feel better. She was like my best friend.”
Bertha was also Michael Francis’ jijuu. A jigger and fiddler from Fort McPherson who now lives in Inuvik, Francis submitted a jig video wearing the last pair of slippers she made him.
“It gets pretty emotional … because I was so close with my grandmother,” Francis said of jigging in those shoes.
Bertha always made him new shoes, he remembers, for the yearly Midway Lake music festival and other events. “Of all the grandchildren, I think I’m the only one that really was spoiled by her with her traditional sewing.”
‘Go out there and have fun’
Francis remembers running around the old-time dances as a child, pulled up to jig for the first time around the age of nine. Since then, he’s been travelling around the Delta and fiddling at festivities that sometimes last until the early morning hours.
Cooped up indoors while the weather finally warms, Francis said the jigging is meant to bring happiness to those both watching and taking part.
“What our leaders and our Elders have passed on and taught us is that you’ve got to go out there and you have fun. Win or lose, at least you tried and you made somebody happy out there. That’s the main goal,” Francis said.
Each community has different styles of jigging, Francis explained. “Sometimes you can actually watch the video without even knowing who they are and you could say, ‘Oh, yeah, this person is from this community.’ That’s how they jig,” he said.
Some contestants are having loads of fun with their videos. One man who entered said he’d like to keep going longer than the allotted time. In many videos, family members can be heard yelling, laughing, and cheering on the dancers.
Stephanie Moses, who is isolating with her daughter, her partner, and their dog, decided her jig just wouldn’t be complete without a proper audience.
In her video, Moses enters the dance floor as makeshift dolls wearing sweaters, jeans, and traditional shoes sit on the couch and ‘watch’ her perform.
“When the jamborees go on in the communities, everybody gathers at the complex or at the arena and there’s a whole crowd that watches everybody that jigs,” she said.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m not gonna have anybody watching me jig,’ so I looked at the sweaters that were hanging up and I said, ‘Hmm, I’ll make my own little audience in my living room.’
“I tried to put the arms in front of them so they look like they’re trying to clap,” she said.
Entries from Yukon
Moses only started jigging last year with her father, who is Gwich’in from Old Crow, Yukon. Her mother is also Gwich’in, from Fort McPherson, so jigging is deep in her culture.
Some contest entries have come from as far away as Watson Lake, Yukon. Delores Springgay, originally from Inuvik, filmed her grandson Tyler jigging for the contest. “He’s jigged off and on but he hasn’t really been around jigging, but he just tries his best,” she said. “He loves the music, so he enjoyed himself.”
Springgay loves the music as well. “I grew up with it, and it’s comforting to hear the music,” she said. “I just love it, it reminds me of home.”
Jig contestant Stephanie Moses, right, with her daughter Seanna, her partner Kevin B Campbell, and their dog Sitjah. The family is surrounded by the ‘audience’ Moses put together for her jig video.
Judges scored the videos up to 10 points and submit their scores. If there were ties, the winners were told to expect virtual “jig-offs.”
The results were posted late on Thursday.
Other big draws to the jamboree are the skidoo races – which can’t really be done online, Daley admitted – as well as the talent show. This is the next event starting up on the Fort McPherson Peel River Jamboree Online Events Facebook group.
Getting people moving and promoting health and wellness, despite Covid-19 keeping people indoors, is how Daley imagines this year’s jamboree will be remembered.