Siing.aay K’apxuunang: days going by fast

DSC_0059Potlatching began on Monday, June 29 at the Bella Bella Community Centre in Waglisla. Gathered outside the hall in the hot summer afternoon Haida nation representatives prepared to formally enter. Some of the singers quietly hummed tunes to themselves and hugged their drums close to their bodies to prepare for two days of potlatching. Others sang in groups, interrupted by big smiles and wise-cracks. Inside, the Heiltsuk hosts gathered to greet their visitors. When everyone was ready, Taaiixou Robert Russ, the speaker for the delegation, requested entry to the hall and Heiltsuk hereditary leaders officially welcomed the Haida in.

Starting with hereditary leaders, the Haida danced into the hall in full regalia singing an entrance song. A thrill entered the room as the pounding drums and loud voices shook the air. Soon the hereditary leaders of both nations were gathered in a circle while the Haida continued pouring into the hall, encircling the leaders and crowding out to the edges of the floor. These first songs and drumming of a two-day potlatch were clearly heard, even from far away.

After everyone had taken their seats, the floor was swept clean to remember Heiltsuk ancestors and clear the room of all bad feelings so that the potlatch could proceed.

As a first order of business, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Ga Gwi Ya Marilyn Slett, and President of the Haida Nation, kil tlaats ’gaa Peter Lantin read the treaty before the crowd of witnesses. Speakers Duqva’aisla William Housty and Taaiixou then began calling forth hereditary leaders, matriarchs, and community leaders to sign the treaty into law. As each signer was called forth a kind of breathless excitement clung to the crowd. Big smiles were exchanged as each set of signers embraced and shook hands as friends, showing the strong camaraderie between people. After the final signature was put to paper, the room exploded into applause.

“Today we are showing the world how strong we are when we put our differences aside,” Gwyaawhlans Roy Collison declared. “Today we re-established our relationship. The Heiltsuk and the Haida are the only two nations back in 1850 to say ‘no more violence’, Today we reap the benefits of the hard work of our ancestors.”

When speeches had concluded, red cedar bark headbands were distributed to everyone so the Heiltsuk could dance ’caíqa the red cedar bark ceremony. To close this dance, the Heiltsuk presented an enormous gift to the Haida hereditary leaders, including a mask, an engraved copper, and rights to dance ’caíqa.

After dinner was served, Haidas spent the remainder of the evening telling, singing, and dancing stories of their own until, exhausted, the potlatchers concluded the day’s activities.

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