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Today I had the opportunity to be in the audience for the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. Sitting amongst several groups of school children I marvelled at the talent of the Dancers of Damelahamid as they performed a number of traditional dances of the First Nations people of the northwest coast of British Columbia. I also marvelled at the absolute silence and stillness of the hundreds of students as they were entranced by the vibrant and energetic dancers.

The professional Aboriginal dance group celebrates and keeps the teachings and traditions of The Gitxsan people alive through their performances. The colorful button blanket regalia provide a delight for the eye while maintaining the culture of the “people of the river of mists”.

It is the preservation of their culture that resulted in the formation of the dance group some 40 years ago. Wanting to save the stories and wisdom of their ancestors in an active way was the impetus for the dance company. The group has evolved with time and has seen several generations at the helm and participating as dancers. The younger dancers told me that they had been dancing with the group since they first learned to walk and the eighteen month old babe in arms is likely to be joining in on performances very soon.

It was a pleasure to watch but it was also interesting to hear how the dance group uses this art form to pass the wisdom of the elders onto the younger generations. Although I was not able to understand the words of the songs they sang as they performed, the principal dancer talked about the teachings that were kept alive through song and dance. Teaching such as respect for nature, only taking what is needed and also giving back both to nature and to each other, learning from the elders, supporting one another, and understanding the value of community were some of the teachings passed on from one generation to another. All things that I value highly.

What a wonderful way to pass on this wisdom! What a wonderful opportunity it was to learn more about the culture of the Coastal First Nations People! What beautiful dancing!

Irene McDermott © 2012