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March, 2006 - Interview with Joan Lafford

Interviewers: Trudy Sable and Franziska von Rosen
Place: Eskasoni, Cape Breton

JL:    My name is Joan Lafford; I was born Joan Gould.  There were seven of us. I started dancing when I was around seven years old. We started in Chapel Island.  My mother made our outfits. She made them by hand. At first we didn’t have any regalia when we were dancing.


After the St. Anne’s Mission was over the entertainment would start.  We came out and father, who was a Grand Keptin, would sit down and start singing.  And Newell Stevens – he is the one who really taught us to dance koju’a. We just followed him and started dancing. I used to watch his feet – how he danced and every time we started dancing I would follow his steps and that’s how I started doing what he did.

Couple times he wasn’t around and we did it ourselves and our leader was my older brother Joey. So we followed him. After that we used to go places. My father would get a call asking us to dance in different places like Merigomish, and Membertou. At that time they didn’t have powwows. We just got a call to come over and we would go there and dance.

FvR:  So Joan can you talk a bit about what was happening with Mi’kmaw dance at the time when you

JF:    We did koju’a dancing but there were other dancers there too. They were from Membertou, the Kabatays. They danced differently than we did. They could not do ours and we couldn’t do theirs.

So now I am trying to bring that all back, like before. When we have mission now (St. Anne’s Day), and it is over, there is bingo but there is no dancing. So we are trying to bring that back for the kids.  The elders just love it, they love it. We enjoy it but right now my brother can’t dance.


TS:    Were there any other children dancing in Wycogomah beside your family?

JL:    No, the Goulds were the only family dancing in Wycocomagh. Newell Stevens was dancing but he
didn’t have any kids. He was just my father’s best buddy and he came with us everywhere. He really was a part of our family when we started to dance.

FvR:   It seems that often only one family in any one community is involved in dancing.

JF:   Well like here, the Mi’kmaq Dancers, like Beej (Joel Denny) and his group they dance a bit different too. You saw us dancing yesterday. Well they started to share their dances and when I saw their dances I loved them so we joined together.

video icon Quicktime video Real media video Windows media video MPEG video
Koju'a Dance
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They used to join us too in Chapel Island. Sarah’s children. We used to dance together there.  We found each other.

TS:   Did you do all those dances at Chapel Island like the partridge dance, the eagle dance, the war dance?

JF:  At that time? No. Just koju’a at that time.

TS:    Would anyone else join in?

JF:    Mostly when we danced the people would join in.  My father would tell them, “If any one wants to participate they are welcome.”  There were two songs my father used to sing. One was the  koju’a  “jiwalukwet jijuo”  and the other was a little different. It was also a koju’a but a little different. Mostly he sang “Jukwaluk kwejijuwo.”  Click here for an audio clip of Andrew Gould singing a koju’a.

Koju'a singing
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FvR:  Did he sing any other koju’a songs.

JF:   No only those two.

FvR:  What about people generally just dancing, not at a special performance but just having fun and

JF.   Well that stopped for a little while and then it started going again.  And now it is popular.  We love dancing because our parents brought us up to enjoy it.

When our father passed away, everybody went different ways.  Nobody danced after that. so finally me and Joey sat down. He said, “You know Joany we have to keep our dances. Why aren’t we dancing anymore.” So we decided to start again. We feel proud and happy to be able to do what we love most in our lives which is dancing, koju’a. Our parents taught us the dances and now we are passing it down to our children and grandchildren.


TS:   Did you also learn to sing?

JF:    Joey [Joan’s late brother] used to sing koju’a. Last time, when he wasn’t there anymore, I put on a tape of his singing and I danced to it. He used to sing all kinds of songs. He was working on learning the song Bringing Mary Home in Mi’kmaq, but he didn’t finish it [before he died]. That’s my mother’s name – Mary.

Right now a lot of my nieces and nephews in Wycogomah are dancing koju’a. When we have powwows, they get all dressed up in regalia.

FvR:  So at powwows you dance koju’a?

JF:   Well they start the powwows with the grand entry and then the honour song and then they do the other songs afterwards. I would like to see the grand entry and then start with the koju’a and have the other dances afterwards. To me that’s the tradition – koju’a. It has been around a long time. But they are doing it now at our powwows.

FvR: Tell us a bit about your regalia.

JF:  I have all the traditional colours that we use today – red, black, and white. and my moccasins are made from deer skin. I have two regalia. One I wear for performances and the other for powwow dancing. You see when I dance koju’a I feel most comfortable in our regalia.


TS:    Do you wear a shawl?

JF:    Yes I have a red shawl.

FvR:  What about the dancing competitions they used to have here?

JF:    They had a koju’a competition here a couple of years ago.  And they did men’s and lady’s competition dancing. The judges, elders, picked the best dancers. So I won the first prize and Joey won the men’s.

TS:    When you learned to dance as a child did they teach you to dance in a different way than the boys or men?

JF:    Same steps. I dance like my twin brother [Ricky]. When you see us dancing we are both the same. Joey was a bit faster than we were.

Now I teach my grandchildren. I put them on my lap and start singing. Then they start the dance steps and I show them how to move. They love it.

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This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online

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