By Justine Apostolopoulos
VANCOUVER — This month, Dancers of Damelahamid of the Gitxsan Nation are celebrating their ten year anniversary of The Coastal First Nations Dance Festival. Since 2008, the dance group has brought together Indigenous performers in a celebration of First Nations dance, song, and stories from the northwest coast of North America.
Margaret Grenier, executive and artistic director of Dancers of Damelahamid, has been producing the festival since its beginnings in the 2008 Cultural Olympiad. As a traditional Gitxsan dancer, she views dance and song as the most important heritage she received from her ancestors. “I was very fortunate to have grown up in such a vibrant and practicing community, it really helped to have such a tangible connection to my identity from such a young age,” says Grenier, whose parents began the annual Salmon Festival in Prince Rupert back in the 1960s. She stresses that this year the Coastal Dance Festival is not only celebrating ten years of song and dance, but over 50 years of resurrecting practices previously outlawed underneath British Columbia’s 1885 Potlatch Ban, which lasted until 1951. “There is a lot of loss in our culture and it has been complicated bringing back these practices,” she says. “It’s very rare to have a community in which the traditions have been uninterrupted, and it can be difficult to find knowledgeable individuals to pass them on.” In some cases, the elders who know the dances are too old to dance themselves, and the younger generations who are learning today have to work with explanation instead of immersion.
Grenier and Dancers of Damelahamid dance not only as a direct connection to their heritage, but also as an important space for healing, support, and reconciliation. How practices have been maintained in a community varies on an individual level and the festival aims to highlight the breadth of work that has been done to revitalize practices that spanned nearly three generational gaps. Grenier, who is currently on the Board of Directors for the Scotiabank Dance Centre, says that the Dancers of Damelahamid will be especially honouring women and the work done by women in carrying forth practices and culture in their communities.
Over six days, the festival showcases a variety of artists who are performing works that range from creative and resourceful adaptations of ancestral dances to purely traditional choreography, stories, and song. This year there will be 15 different solo artists and groups, featuring performers not only from both coasts of North America, but also Hawaii and New Zealand.
The Coastal First Nations Dance Festival is held in partnership with UBC at the Museum of Anthropology, which is built upon the traditional, ancestral, and unceded land of the Musqueam people.
The 2017 Coastal First Nations Dance Festival runs from February 28 – March 5 at the Museum of Anthropology.BC, British Columbia, Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, dance, Dancers of Damelahamid, Gitxsan Nation, indigenous dance, Museum of Anthropology