Sinsg̱waansing Ḵaagan: one day left

Heiltsuk dancers pose humourously as they entertain potlatch witnesses. L-R: Dayton White, Josh Vickers, Terry Reid.

Graham Richard —

Dancing and singing recommenced in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 30, starting with a welcome by the Heiltsuk hereditary leaders. Then Heiltsuk children flooded the floor as they started the day. Their Haida visitors joined them in portraying the spirits and animals that inhabit Heiltsuk territory, forming new friendships. The Heiltsuk youngsters tried their best to teach their guests how they portrayed the various animals. Wheeling around the hall adorned in precious clothes lovingly crafted by their relatives.

When the children had finished, Heiltsuk Dhuwlaxa (peace dances) were performed. The dances tell the origins of the five Heiltsuk families. As the dances proceeded under the watchful eye of specially appointed hosts, dancers whirled around in full regalia. The proceedings were punctuated by six masks that were brought forth and danced individually. These masks are the nawalakv – ancestral spirits who tell the stories of individual leaders and their families.

When the Heiltsuk Dhuwlaxa concluded, they were followed by men’s and women’s competition dances. For these dances, both nations still sing songs originally shared at the potlatch 125 years ago. People from both nations have danced these together before, and the floor became more crowded as growing warmth, familiarity, and energy brought witnesses out of their seats to join in. As the celebrations continued, everyone’s voices joined in songs that seemed to breathe all on their own. Soon, the dances began to choose their own way through the crowded hall, unfolding at their own accord.

When dancing and singing finally wound down, gifts were distributed with displays of great esteem. This was a day when many old kinship and friendship bonds were recognized through dancing and gift giving. Elders, then visitors, then all witnesses received blankets, bottles, clothes, prints, and bags. Haida leaders received framed prints and engraved plaques. Haida singers and dancers received copper medallions.

As a gift from the Haida nation, the Council of the Haida Nation presented hereditary leaders with prints of a sculpin design. The sculpin is a beautiful fish that is ubiquitous in coastal waters. Its use here shows how all coastal nations are connected through the ocean.

As Sdiithladaa Frank Collison explained, “We are all from the ocean, and that’s the very thing that brought us together. We made all those friendships and learned how to live with other people along the coast. So these are the things that brought us to this place.”

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