After more than 20 years as MC, Sioux Valley Dakota Nation’s Bill Taylor is now showing his nephew the ropes
Chelsea Kemp · CBC News · Posted: Aug 31, 2022 5:00 AM CT
An uncle-nephew duo from a First Nation in southwestern Manitoba is working to ensure the art of powwow MCing, and the passing of traditional knowledge and teachings, continues to flow across the Prairies.
Bill Taylor, from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, has a legacy of acting as the master of ceremonies at powwows and community events that stretches back more than 20 years.
His most recent event was as MC for the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation Traditional Wacipi, a powwow that ran on the First Nation from Friday to Sunday last week and drew dancers from across the Prairie provinces and the U.S.
Taylor was introduced to the art of MCing by an uncle in Minnesota in 1997. Taylor took every chance he could to sit with his uncle, not realizing each time marked a step on his path to becoming an MC.
“This is just something that I never thought I was going to do, but it’s paid off very well. I’ve got to … go to a lot of places, meet a lot of nice people,” said Taylor.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be going, but long as I can — as long as my body will let me go,” the 52-year-old said.
“It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it. This is something I love to do.”
Taylor studied what he called the “old fellas” for years, watching and learning from them. He also danced in powwows himself as a men’s fancy dancer. And as he danced in the arena, he would listen to announcers, learning from their every word.
His dance experience also gave him insight he draws on while MCing for the different dancers that appear in the arena during a powwow like Sioux Valley’s.
“By being a dancer, I’ve heard a lot of MCs,” said Taylor. “So when I had my opportunity to do it, I like to do my job proper. I like to do it clear. I like to make sure that everybody’s informed.”
As an e’yapaha (master of ceremonies) during a powwow or a kahomani (round dance), he talks about the different dances, while weaving in teachings and knowledge that has been passed down for generations.
The intent is to “remind people of certain things,” he said. “It’s always using that opportunity to teach the younger generations.”
Taylor is busy every weekend from June to September, covering different events. His travels take him across Canada and into the United States.
When he is not on the road, Taylor runs the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation radio station KODA 93.5 FM.
He’s now preparing the next generation of powwow MCs, by working with his nephew Jason Taylor.
Bill Taylor is hopeful for his nephew’s future in the art of craft.
“I’m not going to be doing this forever. So I’m glad that he’s kind of stepping forward and doing it,” he said.
It’s common to see family members helping each other improve their skills in the powwow community, said Jason Taylor, who is originally from Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and nearby Canupawakpa Dakota Nation and now lives in the southwestern Manitoba town of Virden.
“I’ve experienced it in almost every aspect … of the powwow circle in general,” he said. “It seems to be like a trend.… It takes a community to raise the child, right?”
His experience showcases the positive effect of families working together to benefit younger generations in the community, he said.
His uncle is a confident and straightforward mentor as an MC, Jason said, adding he appreciates the support, since it can be hard to ask for help.
He and his uncle share a common trait in that they like to talk about everything and anything, and could “talk the ears off a statue,” Jason said with a chuckle.
While picking up the mic was intimidating at first, Jason says the more he did, the more he saw an opportunity for new experiences.
“Once you do a whole different world, a whole different life opens up for you,” he said.
He and his uncle recently worked together during National Indigenous Peoples Day in Brandon in June. Bill MCed the event with Jason working as an announcer and arena director.
They also helped with the Canupawakpa Dakota Nation powwow in August, along with last week’s in Sioux Valley.
For now, announcing is a side gig for him, as his main focus is his partner and five children. The family embraces powwow life, and they spend as much time singing and dancing on the trail as they can.
Jason has not ruled out a future as an MC like his uncle, he said, but it will come down to what best suits his family.
“I have a lot to share. Everybody has a lot to share,” he said.