Martina dancing in a powwow with her son Albert.

Two-year-old powwow dancer Albert Apsassin is taking the Internet by storm. The boy danced for the first time at a powwow in Camrose, Alberta at the University of Alberta Augustana Campus on National Aboriginal Day.

Albert joined the intertribal chicken dance and surprised his mom, Martina Desjarlais, with his accurate footwork and timing. Martina filmed his performance and shared the video on Facebook. It now has over two million views.

“It makes me so happy because he’s so small, but he’s made such a good, healthy impact on people,” says Martina. Since that powwow, Albert and Martina have been interviewed by CTV, CBC, Global News and the University of Alberta. “Over the summer we travelled to powwows and people would approach us and be like, ‘Oh is this the little chicken dancer?’” Martina adds, “People recognize him, and they’re so amazed by him. It makes me so proud.”

Even more amazing is the fact that Albert is self-taught. He watches other dancers at powwows, and at home he gets Martina to play powwow videos on YouTube and he’ll practice along to the music in their living room. He has learned the steps and timing all on his own.

Martina grew up with a strong cultural background, and she’s created a similar environment for her two sons by taking them to ceremony, smudging with them every morning and teaching them the Cree language. She recently got Albert the full chicken dance regalia, sewing and beading much of it herself, so that he can participate in more powwows.

Martina completed her high school education at Braemar School, and she willingly shared her culture with teachers and students. With the help of a Terra staff member, she taught other students how to sew their own ribbon skirts. She also helped school staff find different varieties of sage to grow in the garden. Now, enrolled at the University of Alberta, she’s studying to become an Aboriginal liaison in schools, with the goal of bringing culture alive and teaching others how to reconcile in a healthy way.

“Learn to love your culture and don’t be afraid to teach it to other people,” Martina says. “When someone asks about it, teach them, don’t belittle them. We’re all here to learn.”

Terra also recognizes the importance of creating opportunities for staff and participants to learn more about Indigenous culture. Over the past two years, we have developed and implemented Indigenous programming at all Terra locations. Programming includes our Elder in Residence, weekly smudge ceremonies, quarterly sweat ceremonies, mandatory Indigenous cultural teachings for new staff and a knowledge keepers’ group. Over 50% of Terra participants identify as Indigenous, so this cultural programming is key in our work.