Indigenous Day for 2019, held as it usually is on June 21 was an eventful day for our people. Time for reflection, acknowledgement, and being with family and friends is always a big part of our gathering on this day. Also meeting people of all Nations is a big part of our day, and we enjoy the different styles of music, drumming, and of course the food of different Nations. But most of all it is rewarding to see the little ones learning their language, and being part of the drumming and dancing, learning by watching, joining in and through that participation coming to understand their own part in our ongoing history. It makes my heart feel light, and gives me much hope for the future, to see the next generation decolonizing and being more part of their own culture.
Our dance group, Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga'a Dancers performed 12 times during the two weeks surrounding June 21 , from Chilliwack to Victoria. In five days we did ten performances, and though it was a tough schedule it was wonderful to share our ‘dance family’ togetherness. We hope that our enjoyment in our dancing and singing, in the sharing of our history, and our love, shines through to the communities that gather, and to the hosts who have invited us to come and spend time with them.
Wal-aks, our leader and knowledge keeper, not only helps us in our dancing, drumming and language learning, but has taught us to make the button blankets and aprons we wear. He has also shared with us the skill of weaving with cedar. He has shared many stories about our families and their connections with one another, and how our stories are passed to the next generation. His knowledge our “Ayuuk” -our laws and protocols - is amazing. Each and every one of us has a story behind his or her Nisga’a name, and a connection to the matriarch in their house. I am from the house Wilp Sim’oogt Minee'eskw, the Eagle family. My grandmother was Eagle, my mother was Eagle and therefore I am from the Eagle family.
In urban settings like Vancouver it is hard to maintain immediate family connections, especially when our Nisga’a home communities are so far away. But we get our connections with each other as Nisga’a on Monday nights for dance practice and Thursday nights for language class. This is where we get not only language classes, but discover family connections and also protocols for our families.
We miss it when we do not have dance practice or language class, because of the connections we have made with each other. On June 21, and whenever we get together, we celebrate a return to our extended family, made from our connections on Mondays and Thursdays.
So when we dance and sing for the communities who have invited us to be part of their celebrations, we dance from our hearts, and this is reflected in the way we get so many positive responses after our sharing of our songs. In return we feel the kindness and warmth given to us as we dance.
National Indigenous Peoples Day has become not just a ‘once a year’ celebration of who we are, but an ongoing way of life for us and a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. We are not afraid to tell our story and share who we are as Indigenous people. Once we were not noticed, and now we have strong beginnings of equality for us Indigenous people. It is heartening to see the Anglican churches, the Vancouver Police Department, the schools, and many other people and agencies recognize us as equals.
We have always wanted to be recognized as a part of Canada - not just as problems and statistics, but as contributors to our country.
I was very tired following so many events last June, but it is a good tired. ‘Lukw’il Aam goodiy’ – ‘my heart is happy’, and thankful for all we have shared together in this month of celebration!
Amaa sa (Good day)
1. The author Nii K’an Kwsdins as MC at the Feast in Honour of Indigenous Day held at the Synod Office, June 19.
2. Members of the Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga'a Dancers conclude a dance with the release of feathes.
Photos: Randy Murray