Nisga'a celebrates new year this weekend at PNE Forum

More than 650 drummers, singers, dancers to perform at free event

Many eyes will be on the moon this week.

Many Nisga’a eyes.

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February marks the beginning of the Nisga’a Nation’s new year. And the moon, and how it is shaped in the sky, has historically been an indicator of whether the harvest of oolichan, salmon, berries and other foods will be bountiful for the Nisga’a people this year.

“If the moon is sitting in the sky with its tips pointed up, it’s sitting like the bowl of a spoon, which represents holding all of our harvest and that means a good year,” explained Sheldon Martin, president of the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Vancouver Society.

Though the nation’s homelands are in northwest B.C., the annual event is commemorated in a big and celebratory way in the Lower Mainland, where more than 1,400 Nisga’a call home.

Many of those people and members of other nations are expected to turn out this Friday and Saturday to the Hobiyee festival at the PNE Forum, where more than 7,000 people attended last year.

Photo Wawmeesh Hamilton

This year, eight large First Nations dance groups totaling more than 650 performers will entertain the crowds in what is a free event open to the public.

“It’s an opportunity for us to gather, especially for us in the concrete jungle,” said Martin, who emphasized the importance of Aboriginal peoples reconnecting with culture they may have left behind in moving to the city. “Once you get 300 drummers drumming, that place is going to start rumbling. When you feel the beat of that drum, you can’t help but begin to move. For a lot of our people, it’s a very spiritual time.”

Keane Tait will lead one of the local Nisga’a dance groups and be joined on a drum by his uncle, Jerry Adams, executive director of the Circle of Eagles transition house for Aboriginal men. Adams’ daughters will also dance during the festival.

Tait said the celebration continues to grow and attracts more people every year, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Those connections with people help build and showcase culture, he said, noting there is a push to get more of his dance group members fluent in the Nisga’a language.

“Hobiyee is a celebration of our culture, where we can be ourselves, where we can feel safe and really show the community the strength of our culture and that we can all come together as one to celebrate who we are,” said Tait, who lives in Coquitlam.

Photo Wawmeesh Hamilton

Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the city’s manager of Aboriginal relations, will also attend this weekend’s festival. Gosnell Myers, whose heritage is Nisga’a and Kwakwaka’wakw, noted Mayor Gregor Robertson will be at the event for the first time.

She echoed Martin’s comments about the importance of Aboriginal peoples living in the region reconnecting with their culture. The Hobiyee festival, she acknowledged, is not that widely known outside the Aboriginal community, but she would like to change that.

“We do want to see everybody come out to the festival, it’s quite amazing,” Gosnell-Myers said.


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