Hoobiyee brings four Nuu-chah-nulth groups to perform before thousands | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Hoobiyee brings four Nuu-chah-nulth groups to perform before thousands

Vancouver, BC

Nuu-chah-nulth groups were a large part of this year’s Hoobiyee cultural celebration in Vancouver – a lively showcase that continued for two days at the PNE despite scheduling changes due to a what by all accounts appeared to be a tragedy midway through.

In celebration of the Nisga’a new year, marking the traditional beginning of the harvest season with the return of the oolichan fish into the Nass Valley, Hoobiyee once again took over the Pacific National Exhibition on March 1 and 2. The annual event is hosted by the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Vancouver Society, offering a cultural celebration for Nisga’a people living away from their home territory as well as First Nations from across British Columbia.

This year the competitive selection process resulted in four Nuu-chah-nulth groups performing before the thousands in attendance, including two from the Ahousaht First Nation. An Ahousaht group from the village of Maaqtusiis were the first to perform on Friday morning, with contingents from Huu-ay-aht and Tla-o-qui-aht following in the afternoon.

An estimated 235 people took part in the Tla-o-qui-aht performance, with dancing and regalia electrifying the floor as a tightly packed crowd sung to drumming.

Elmer Frank was among those in the centre.

“Our culture has really brought our people together,” said Frank, noting that as many as 300 of the First Nation’s members participate in the regular cultural practices in Tofino. “There might have been times when it might have been weak, it might have slowed down, but it never died - and this is a good testament to that. You see little children that have a high interest in learning the songs, that are willing to come out in the rain to get to our cultural centre at Tin Wis.”

Events unfolded under an illuminated crescent and star hanging from the centre of the forum’s ceiling. This references traditional methods that the Nisga’a used to read celestial bodies.

“The Simgigat – Nisga’a Chieftains – in past centuries studied the celestial heavens. They were knowledgeable in the behaviors of the stars in proximity to the moon which forecasted the weather patterns,” reads a document compiled by the Nisga’a Lisims Government based on elders’ accounts. “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 the ends pointing upward, this meant abundant resources in the harvesting seasons to follow in K’alii-Aksim Lisims (the Nass Valley).”

The document explains that hoobiyee means “The spoon is full” in the ancestral Nisga’a language. This word has been adopted by performers during the Hoobiyee event in Vancouver, as they intermittently shout “Hoobiyee!” to the crowd.

“Just as soon as the Hobiyee moon was sighted, the grandfathers would immediately throw their arms up into the shape of the ‘hobiyee moon’ and run out into the village hollering, ‘Hobiyee!  Hobiyee!’ And always, the children would be right behind, copying the grandfathers,” explained the Nisga’a Lisims Government.

This was the second year in a row that the Tla-o-qui-aht group performed at Hoobiyee. Frank admitted that in the past his group has been more accustomed to the looser time constraints of a potlatch, but to prepare for Hoobiyee they had to ensure their timing could fit within the 45-minute performance period. They learned this lesson from the 2023 event.

“We performed probably about half an hour over our time limit. It wasn’t done on purpose,” said Frank. “This is the Nisga’a celebration, we’re honouring their invitation. We tried to stay within their timelines to be respectful to them.”

By late afternoon the event appeared to be running ahead of schedule, allowing all performing groups to walk into the forum for the Grand Entry. With the lights low the building vibrated with chanting and drumming, and Premier David Eby came to stand with the growing crowd on the dance floor.

Meanwhile someone sitting in the courtside area designated for elders had collapsed, leading those around him to attempting resuscitation. This continued for some time until paramedics arrived, who continued the effort with no apparent response from the fallen individual.

Authorities and Hoobiyee’s organizers have not announced that someone passed during the celebration, although the BC Ambulance Service did confirm to Ha-Shilth-Sa that paramedics arrived at the PNE at approximately 6 p.m., but “did not transport” anyone away to a hospital.

After an opening prayer to resume the celebration the next morning, Hoobiyee organizers did acknowledge the incident.

“We do have a blessing from the family to carry on today - to carry on with our celebration, as the family wishes us to do,” they said. “We’re grateful for them to honour us and allow us to carry on.”

Organizers also noted that measures were taken after the incident, and that counsellors were on hand over the course of the day to provide support to anyone if needed.

“We also are very grateful to our creator and our ancestors today for being here with us and being here to provide us with good medicine people, good spiritual healers that are here,” said the organizers. “And they did a good cleansing on the hall and the floor for us.”

With an altered time schedule, more performances followed on the Sunday, including afternoon singing and dancing from the Ahousaht Cultural Group, many of whom reside in Port Alberni.

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