The first thing I noticed was the eagle down on the dance floor. It flowed about pushed by the air, and swirled around solid objects it came into contact with on the ground; looking angelic as it surrounded the big wooden canoe.
I am at Hobiyee, at the PNE Agrodome. This is the Aboriginal New Years’ celebration, which is held in February when the moon reaches crescent shape– indicating to celestial interpreters what kind of bounty this years’ harvest would bring to native peoples. Hobiyee means, “the spoon is full”, and the crescent moon represents that spoon. It is the tilt of the crescent in February, which is the indication of the seasonal rounds to come. This observation, among countless others, demonstrates First Nations’ inherent ancestral wisdom about living off the land, and interpreting natural signs about predicting harvests. This is the first I am learning of any of this. I think it’s amazing because it can’t be taught through institutionalized education (of which you may know I’m quite the sympathizer). I feel intimidated by what I don’t understand, but that’s set-aside by inspiration.
As I was saying, the eagle down is all over the dance floor. Little did I know, eagle down is extremely sacred to the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Society (this specific First Nations group). As a material, it is their most sacred being. The ancestral appreciation of it flows from the monumental process of eagles carrying it under their bellies (as close to the heavens as a creature can get)… when they journeyed down to gorge on salmon they began malting. They would shed their soft, luscious feathery down around rivers, and native peoples would collect and incorporate it into their apparel. Early explorers noted this eagle down as their first impression of native tribes: eagle down orbited around the peoples.
Presently, eagle down is considered a blessing and a cleansing being… when it lands on you, you are blessed, when it lands in an area, cleansed space is revealed. One prominent Nisga’a Ts’amik scholar I spoke to said when she lectured at UBC recently, it was the moment she spread eagle down around the floor that laptops snapped shut, cell phones were put away, and peoples’ eyes lit up. She said the moment changed, as the power of the eagle down is so moving that people are riveted. Her name is Mique’l, and she is the first, First Nations person to get their PhD in Northwest Coast Art History. As we converse, her reverent passion is apparent and I listen to her words carefully: each one is worth its weight in… well, eagle down I understand.
The feeling here today resonates bone-deep. The drumming, the dancing, the family, the singing, the call and response “HOBIYEE”– the LIFE is just exploding out of this venue. “Culture reaches all ages”, as my good friend Danielle Rainsford exclaimed earlier… and it’s true. There is no social stigma here about who fits where: dancers are 3 years old- and 73 years old. I just watched a boy who must have been 5 years old hold his own through a complex traditional dance that was probably 10 minutes long- and he was so expressive and focused! He moved his elbows left and right, and beat his drum in perfect timing.
The closest Caucasian, “West-Coast” kind of experience I can relate this to from my childhood is rather a pathetic example, and I hope no one takes offence to my connecting it. However, I hope it helps some understand the family and community based feeling that is taking place here today. If anyone knows what I mean about Swim Meets, then you may get this gist of my paralleling it to this. Swim Meets to me meant families going somewhere together, and other families supporting each other’s families equally. You went to a location to support not just your child in their event, but also every child from your hometown. Families would eat, talk, and watch events take place at the center of attention: the kind of orientation of events here today. That being said, that is about as far as the emotional connection goes, because although it is families connecting here today watching events together in harmony, it is so much more than that.
Here, yes, there is family, there is food, there is idle chat, but there is also history, culture, dancing, music, ancient oral traditions, beauty, respect, honour, intricate design; all creating an experience that I cannot parallel with ANYTHING from my childhood. Which I find… sad? No. But disappointing. This is 2012, and to be entirely honest I am rather envious that they have kept tradition and culture alive in such an urban and contemporary setting. The normality of participation is the essence of what is so beautiful to me: the kids dancing, the skater boy who joined the traditional dance without even a second thought about how it would “look”, the babies being held by elders, the freedom of expression through movement, the audience standing in respect for hours, and the bright light shining on all symbolizing inclusion.
Family and community are emphatically important here, and I’m realizing that maybe we can learn a thing or two about appreciating what’s in front of us and where we come from. How many of us can name our Great Grandparents? Is that lost on us settlers? It’s definitely not lost here. No element of love, family, support, community, or sharing is lost in this setting, and although I may not do a mentionable job at describing it, I hope to convey this: The people here are still honouring the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that every single one of us originates from; they are honouring the land, nature, each other, youth and old age, and oral tradition. These aspects of life have given us modern culture, not many know this. I am here to support their tradition, because essentially, they have given me mine.
-Written by Helena Bryn-McLeod on behalf of Social City Networking INC.-