There are times in life when memorable things happen to you, as it did for me when I went home this February to my home territory, Aiyansh. My family and I shared with the Nisga’a People the 50th Anniversary of the revival of Hoobiyee – the celebration of the Nisga’a New Year.
From the moment our plane landed, the beauty of the territory embraced us, uplifting us with spiritual energy. We were surrounded by snow-covered mountains, and the unique landscape of the lava beds which remain from volcanic eruptions in the 1700s. Our strength is in our community, and families from all four villages along the Nass River - Gingolx, Gitwinksihlkw, Laxgalts'ap and Gitlaxt'aamiks – gathered together to celebrate. This display of unity was amazing to witness, and it was incredible to feel the presence of our “Nisga’a Spirit” which is very much alive and embraced by our people.
Nobody was left out - everyone was part of Hoobiyee, and everyone was welcomed and accepted as who they were, and from whatever House or village they came from, or in our case from Vancouver. No one visitng our home community felt ill at ease or unwelcome.
Our Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga’a dance group (well-known in Vancouver and in Anglican church circles) performed on each of the two days. However, as our daughter Melissa said in a recent CBC Radio interview on “The Early Edition”:
“It's not just a song and dance - we're learning about our laws and our protocols and roles and relationships….It feels like you're so much part of a community and you're proud to be Nisga'a."
Even though the village of Aiyansh was the host for everyone in attendance, there was never any fear or panic displayed by the organizers or the people in the kitchen feeding us. They fed everyone breakfast, lunch and suppers for the two days of ceremonies and dancing. It was a treat to eat traditional foods, which come from the land and the ocean.
The most touching moments were watching the little children who are such a big part of our community - how well behaved they were, and how they danced with so much joy. Even babies participated, carried on their moms’ backs while they danced. From an early age, Nisga’a children are a part of all the ceremonies, feasts, clan gatherings and meetings. There are rarely events without babies and children present.
( You will find linked below, information about Hoobiyee and the meanings behind the ceremony, as the Elders recount it.)
There have been so many negative stories lately involving Aboriginal people, from the mistreatment of an Elder and his granddaughter by the Bank of Montreal, to the Wet'suwet'en Nation’s struggles and the blockades across Canada. People are saddened by all the conflict and broken promises. Some feel that Reconciliation is not working.
Yet visiting our home territories for the celebration of Hobiyee was a powerful reminder of the strength and beauty of the land, and of our Nisga’a People. This is what the resistance by our nations is all about – holding onto the unspoiled beauty of our home territories which have nourished us physically and spiritually from time immemorial. The opportunity to share in a ceremonial celebration in our homeland, amongst the people it came from, and amongst our extended family, was something we will never forget.
(Please see below a YouTube of a film depicting the Grand Entry of all the dance groups in Aiyansh so you can see how excited it made us feel.)
All photos by the author except where noted.