Young dancers prepare for upcoming Hoobiyee event | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Young dancers prepare for upcoming Hoobiyee event

Ahousaht, BC

Since the start of the new year dozens of young Ahousaht members have been preparing to showcase their nation’s dances at an upcoming event in Vancouver.

At least 35 students will be making the trek from Ahousaht’s Flores Island village to the Hoobiyee event, which is scheduled for March 1-2 at the PNE grounds in Vancouver. For over a month the young dancers, who range in age from Grade 5 to 12, have been practicing two to three times a week in Ahousaht’s T-Bird Hall and the school gymnasium.

“They’re always very eager,” said Ciiqaptuulthaqsa, Terry Robinson, a teacher in the community who is helping to prepare the dancers for the annual cultural event. “They connect with our culture really well. As we progress through the dance practice, their confidence builds in learning new dances.”

This will be the fifth year that Ciiqaptuulthaqsa has brought a group to Hoobiyee, and she said that Ahousaht tries to change the dances that are brought to Vancouver each time they attend the event. Cultural leaders in the community work with students to decide on what dances to perform, she said, and this year the group’s offerings incude a flag song from Kelsmaht, one of the tribes that amalgamated into Ahousaht during the 20th century.

The students also learn about the importance of asking the owners of the dances permission to perform them.

Ciiqaptuulthaqsa has seen some of her shy students “come alive” as they perform their nation’s dances.

“They’re more in tune with themselves in singing and dancing,” she said. “They’re connecting with their ancestral roots in that way. I’ve seen a really dramatic change with my really shy students.”

The group will be performing in regalia from the Maaqtusiis school’s culture room, including pieces made of woven cedar bark.

“We had as young as Grade 3s helping with the cedar regalia last year, learning how to thin it and strip it, weave it together at the top with the string,” said Ciiqaptuulthaqsa. “Yesterday we had our first regalia practice. For them to put the regalia on gives them the enthusiasm to try harder when they’re dancing.”

Hosted by the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Society on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish  and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, the annual event marks the start of the Nisga’a new year – beginning the nation’s harvest season when the small oolichan fish return to the Nass Valley. In this northwestern part of the province, the oolichan were traditionally the first food to arrive in the Nass River at a time when winter supplies were almost depleted. After about two months, the spring salmon would follow.

Certain members of Nisga’a society were experts in reading the moon and the stars, and the arrangement of these celestial bodies could be used to predict the weather and the abundance of resources.

“Over time, they observed that whenever the first crescent moon (thin-shaped) is in the shape of the Hoobix – the bowl of the Nisga’a wooden spoon with ends pointing upward, this meant abundant resources in the harvesting seasons to follow in K’alii-Aksim Lisims (the Nass Valley),” reads a document from the Nisga’a Lisims Government. “The oolichans would be plentiful, the salmon…berries…and various other resources important to the Nisga’a; all in all, a bountiful year predicted.”

With so many members living away from their home territory, for several years the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Society has hosted the cultural event in Vancouver. The convergence of many cultures from across British Columbia provides an exciting experience for the many youth venturing from Ahousaht, who will be accompanied by adult singers and other chaperones, making their contingent total about 50.

Last year Ahousaht member Greg Louie even managed to connect with one of the parents to get the youngsters into a Vancouver Canucks game, said Ciiqaptuulthaqsa.

“Some of our students don’t get to leave the reserve very often, so going to the big city like Vancouver is quite the experience for them,” she noted. “It’s an awesome experience for our kids. They get to connect with even urban family members.”

Other Nuu-chah-nulth groups are also scheduled to perform at Hoobiyee, including youth from the Huu-ay-aht and Tseshaht First Nations. The event begins with a welcome feast on Thursday, Feb. 29, followed by two days of performances on March 1 and 2 at the PNE Forum, 2901 East Hastings Street, in Vancouver.

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