July 14, 2023

Peter White in full regalia

GETTING A RECENT ALL-CLEAR from his doctor is a great relief to Peter White for both personal and professional reasons.

It means a cancerous tumour on his right foot diagnosed seven years ago is gone and White can keep on his feet as an ironworker and also pursue his high-profile sideline pursuit as a powwow dancer.

White, a member of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers (Ironworkers Local 97), has been in the business for 12 years, and the work has taken him around the province. That’s part of what he loves about the job — the variety.

White has worked on warehouses in various locations in the Port of Vancouver. He worked on the Port Mann Bridge. He’s gone as far north as Kitimat and out east to the Kootenays where he is a member of the Ktunaxa Nation.

And if you’ve ridden the SkyTrain from Lougheed Town Centre in Burnaby to the Tri-Cities area, you’ve benefited from his work directly, with high-tension steel holding the concrete blocks together. That steel, he said, has to withstand “thousands and thousands” of pounds per square inch of pressure, as trains run back and forth along the tracks.

But the all-clear on his foot has an even greater meaning for his life outside of work.

“I’m almost 10 years sober now, and in my sobriety journey, I wanted to reconnect with my traditions,” he said.

For several years now, White has been dancing in powwows. He says this aspect of his culture resonates with him because of his childhood experiences.

“My grandpa used to dance when I was younger, so I watched him growing up until he passed on. That kind of inspired me to do it,” he said.

White’s grandfather passed away more than a decade ago, so he never got to watch his grandson dance in a powwow.

“He’d be really proud,” White said.

His grandfather would be especially proud, he said, of the leadership role he’s taken in the community, including as a role model for youth.

“A lot of youth look up to me, I guess,” he said modestly.

Under the name @PeterNotSoWhite, he has amassed a following of almost 170,000 on TikTok, where he posts, among other things, videos of him dancing in his regalia. He’s also garnered a following of nearly 62,000 on Instagram, where he posts less frequently.

Like ironworking, his dancing takes him far and wide.

“I travel all over North America, usually in the summertime, to partake in [powwows]. The farthest so far I’ve made it is Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve been to Ottawa, all over the Prairies, Alberta, Saskatchewan area, down in Washington and Idaho,” he said.

And he’s recently done advertising content for the new Salmon n’ Bannock restaurant at YVR, Salmon n’ Bannock On The Fly, which was announced in December as the first Indigenous restaurant at an airport in Canada.

“It’s just carrying on that legacy and helping to break cycles that a lot of Indigenous people go through, like myself, like a lot of people in the community,” he said, when asked what it means to him to be reconnecting with his culture in this way.

“We grew up in foster homes because our parents or grandparents were severely affected by residential schools, and they don’t know how to be parents, and they turn to alcohol and drug abuse to cope with what happened.”

He said this work shows the community that things can get better.

“I’ve had people reach out to me, saying that my story inspired them to get into dancing and getting to learn their history and languages,” he said.

By Dustin Godfrey