Ten years ago, the first Coastal First Nations Dance Festival was held in Vancouver in partnership with the UBC Museum of Anthropology. The festival’s history, however, goes back far beyond that—all the way to 1967. “My parents Ken and Margaret Harris, lived in the city of Prince Rupert, which is fairly close to our home territory along the Skeena River,” says Margaret Grenier, the festival’s executive and artistic director. “At that time there was work being done to bring back song and dance for a number of the communities on the northwest coast,” she continues, “and so the festival was a way to help support the revitalization of dance and also just gather artists in communities together to share in one another practices and that at the time was sort of the first resurgence since the lifting of the potlatch ban that went until 1952.”
Grenier grew up with a keen understanding of how dance can connect audiences to language, cultural knowledge, and folklore. In running the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival, she’s made it a priority to include artists from remote regions—both from within Canada and internationally. “This year, we have a majority of artists coming from the coast, anywhere from Washington State up into Alaska and the Yukon, but we also have had guest national artists as well as international artists,” she says of the tenth anniversary line-up. “This year we have, for the first time, a women’s drum group that’s coming from the Mi’kmaq. They’re based out of St. John’s Newfoundland and it’s the first time our festival has been able to connect with artists from that area.” As for anticipated international talent, “We have an artist Peter Espiritu who is coming from Fiji and he is trained in Fijian indigenous artistic practices as well as Hawaiian, which is his heritage, and we also have an artist from New Zealand, Charles Koroneho, who is both trained within his indigenous traditional dance practices as well as contemporary work.”
This mixture of artists with traditional and contemporaries approaches to their work contribute to a diversely expressive festival imbued with a variety of influences and identities—an ideal way to experience the beauty of indigenous performance and customs.
The 2017 Coastal First Nations Dance Festival runs February 28 to March 5 at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. More information at Damelahamid.ca.
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