The performers at this year’s Coastal First Nations Dance Festival have embarked on a lifelong journey to revitalize their culture. The festival, held at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology between March 3–8, showcased First Nations performers from across North America. The groups themselves transcended boundaries, with artists from many backgrounds collaborating in an active and fluid cultural expression.
Some of the dances dated back hundreds of years — to a point of cultural vibrancy in British Columbian history that was nearly forgotten.
Simon Fraser University alumni Jeanette Kotowich debuted a spectacularly nimble, contemporary Métis solo. From the beginning, the audience could not help but clap in rhythm, mesmerized by Kotowich’s energy.
Git Hoan from Alaska showcased a chief’s welcome dance that was hundreds of years old. The dance featured headdresses filled with down feathers, creating puffs of swirling feathers around the dancers — it was a glimpse back into the spectacles of history.
Descendants of the Tsimshian, a culture uprooted from their home on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, revived a traditional dance that had been lost in the move away from their homeland. Git Hoan performed a dynamic and exhilarating set.
Each dance told a story that evoked a powerful array of emotions in the crowd, from enthrallment to apprehension. The story of mouse-woman featured a seven-foot, shaggy, masked creature slaying any man who did not heed the wise woman’s advice. In another dance, masked raven dancers clacked their beaks over rhythmic drum beats and dove into the audience, calling to each other from their positions in the room.
Dancers of Damelahamid, of the Gitxsan nation in BC, wore customary button blanket regalia and performed contemporary interpretations of First Nations dance. The new and original dances featured this year were a mix of enchanting vocals and riveting choreography.
“It is more than just a practice, it is more than just an art form,” dancer Margaret Grenier sung over the first beats of their song. “All that I am is here.”
Urseloria and Nikollane Kanuho, Diné sisters from Arizona, were a flash of colours and sequins. Their set featured a show of female strength in the Women’s Fancy Dance. “[This dance was] originally danced by two brave women who were often booed,” Grenier explained. “[Many people] were opposed to women bringing such attention to their dance.”
The performance was a dazzling and deeply affecting assertion of female power at a time when violence against Aboriginal women in Canada is a serious concern.
The artists put their culture and their hearts on the stage, and the intensity was felt by all in the audience. Against the backdrop of ceiling-high totem poles and surrounded by First Nations art, the museum’s Grand Hall was transformed into a moving shared experience for all attendees.
It was a taste of multiculturalism from British Columbia’s indigenous peoples, who continue to leave a dynamic legacy by educating the public about their history.
The Coastal First Nations Dance Festival was presented from March 3 to 7. For more information, visit damelahamid.ca.