“People might pay attention and hear our message”

While on this day we invoke our culture bringing forward a copper ritual, seldom seen outside of our homelands. We bring this copper from the great Pacific where it was washed and touched by people of the ocean and then in a journey across this land touched by elders and children, washed in the rivers and lakes, blessed in Sundance and ceremonies, carried by Powwow dancers, and touched again by the people of the land. It has been cleansed with smoke and brought here to be broken. This is our wealth of place, of culture and everything that is dear to us including life itself and all that the great nature provides. We name the copper Taaw in respect for the great life-giving oolichan oil, in contrast to the poison from the Oilsands. With this in mind we break this copper. We break it at the doorstep of the Government of Canada with a great sense of celebration. We break this copper not as a slight to Canada or an insult to Canadians who have shown us nothing but support and encouragement. In breaking this copper we confront the tyranny and oppression of a government who has forsaken human rights and turned its back on nature in the interests of the almighty dollar, and we act in accordance with our laws.” –Guujaaw, prayer from Parliament Hill quoted in the Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 21

“Beau thinks that traditional indigenous culture is something we can all learn from as a way of being with, dealing with, and dialoging with nature that would lead us away from resource extraction and domination model.” –Scott Watson, quoted in the Vancouver Sun article “Lalakenis recounts indigenous journey that shamed the federal government”, published the 14 January 2016, http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2016/01/14/lalakenis-recounts-indigenous-journey-that-shamed-the-federal-government/

“Of course, being Beau Dick is an advantage sometimes! Being a well-known artist as well as Hereditary Chief meant that people might pay attention and hear our message.” -Beau Dick, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 8

Beau Dick/ Walas Gwy Um

Beau Dick (Walas Gwy Um) is a Kwakwaka’wakw Hereditary Chief and artist. He was born on Village Island, Kingcome Inlet, BC and raised speaking only Kwakwala. When he was six years old, Beau was relocated to Vancouver where he spent the rest of his childhood. Beau began carving at an early age under the tutelage of his father (Benjamin Dick) and his grandfather (James Dick). Beau later studied under the renowned artists Henry Hunt and Doug Cranmer. He now resides and works in Alert Bay, and is currently in his third year of residency at UBC.

Beau’s work is known for its power, emotion, originality, and creativity. He not only explores traditional Kwakwaka’wakw artistic styles, but he also incorporates a wealth of other Indigenous and Western practices and media. In 2012 Beau received the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA Award for Visual Arts, and his work is exhibited in numerous museums and galleries around the world including the Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, QC), the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In 2013, Beau and an entourage comprising his daughters Linnea and Geraldine and other community members walked from Quatsino, BC down Vancouver Island to Victoria in order to break a copper (named Nunmgala) on the steps of Parliament. In 2014 they magnified their previous journey and travelled cross-country to break the copper Taaw, made by Haida carver and former president of the Haida Nation Giindajin Haawasti Guujaw, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They thereby conducted traditional copper-breaking ceremonies, “marking a ruptured relationship in need of repair [in this case, between the government and the First Nations of Canada], and passing the burden of wrongs done to First Nations people from them to the Government of Canada” (Watson, Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibition brochure, pg. 3).

Now is an exciting time for First Nations of the Northwest Coast. Through media coverage and a new exhibition at the Belkin Art Gallery at UBC, Beau Dick’s journeys to Victoria and Ottawa are just now being published and spread in order to raise awareness about the vast range of injustices committed by Parliament to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. As a part of this awareness-raising, Beau decided to host a public feast on the 15 January to honour the opening of Lalakenis/All Directions, the premiering of the Great Hall at the new UBC Student Nest, and the third year of his residency, and to spread a strong message about the current state of Canada and the necessity for change.


The Lalakenis Feast, 15 January 2016

I am trying to think of how to write a short blog post about a feast that lasted for at least 12 hours and that incorporated a plethora of presenters, speakers, ceremonies, dance and music, food, and community engagement, in addition to profound silence, tears, laughter, love, meditation, self-reflection, and a tremendous sense of communal support. Because there were so many individual elements of the feast that merit their own blog post, I will focus for now on the overarching message that the event sought to spread.

I was volunteering to help prepare food (“for 1000 people”, we were told two nights prior to the event), and I came out of the kitchen in the middle of the pipe ceremony conducted by Gyaaustees. Although my seat toward the back corner of the hall prohibited me from viewing what was happening within the circle of participants around the central altar (which displayed belongings that Beau and his entourage had taken with them to Ottawa, in addition to the coppers and other ceremonial items), I nevertheless felt the silence and the overbearing emotion of the participants. This testified to the pipe ceremony’s ability to heal individuals and to bring together communities through the sharing of both sacred tobacco (as Yvette Nolan discusses in Medicine Shows, pages 2 and 61) and profound communal experiences and understanding. The sense of community that was thus established served as a basis for the rest of the evening’s events as we welcomed guest speakers, dance groups, and music performances and enjoyed food and drink, a fashion show, photography, and the Grand Finale.

Some of my favourite portions of the event included the Fancy Dances performed by Rebecca and her family, during which one could observe how their regalia were designed to be danced. The Haida Procession was also fantastic with their dramatic entrance, their incredible masks and regalia, their animated movements embodying the characters of the masks, and the confidence, heavy footsteps, and powerful eye contact of each member of the group. The Grand Finale was enormous—with the amount of beautifully-crafted masks (more than $2 million worth, as Gyaaustees had informed me earlier in the evening), the number of participants who took part in embodying and displaying the masks to the witnesses, and the energy involved both within and leading up to this moment— and was well worth the wait until the end of the feast.

The range of speakers at the event included Jasmin Starrchild (who spoke emotionally about world peace), David Suzuki, guests from the Oceans and Fisheries Research Centre and Greenpeace promoting sustainable resource extraction practices, the curators of the Belkin Art Gallery, Chief Bob Joseph on his work as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the planned TRC research centre, and Dr. Mique’l Dangeli. As one of the last speakers, Dr. Dangeli stated that when she first saw the feast’s proposed schedule, she could not see the through line between the different elements and topics covered by the presenters and performers. However, now that the event was drawing to a close, we all understood the message implied in the links between the artists, dancers and musicians, lawyers, activists, and leaders in environmental science and policy. Dr. Suzuki seemed to have summed it up well when he stated that the lifestyles that settler colonialism has attempted to eradicate are actually those that we must assume for the sake of sustaining our planet and supporting ourselves. Yet every speaker, performer, dancer, artist, helper, participant, and witness contributed to the grand message of the evening, reinforced by the ongoing support of the community and finally heard (judging by the amount of witnesses in attendance at the feast) by the wider public: We must stop the mass exploitation of the earth’s resources and the abuse of Indigenous peoples!

3 thoughts on ““People might pay attention and hear our message””

  1. Eliana, great post! I enjoyed reading about the overall message of the day of people coming together and to address how “we must stop the mass exploitation of the earth’s resources and the abuse of Indigenous peoples”. I especially enjoyed reading this after finishing Medicine Shows. It seems that all the connection and community that was made was was a real act of medicine. Wish I could have attended!

  2. Nice job providing an insiders perspective on the work involved in helping to organizing such an event! It definitely shapes your perspective as a witness. Great descriptions of how this feast brought together people from a wide range of backgrounds and artistic expressions in a way that spoke to the issues that all of humanity faces as we share this world. This is one of the reasons why Beau’s work is so powerful. He has generative and inspiring way of brining people together from all directions!

    It would have interesting to hear about your experience dancing one of his masks, if I remember correctly, he brought you and Vanessa behind the screen to do so. Vanessa for sure. Did you also dance?

    1. Thank you for your comment Professor Dangeli! I actually did not dance one of the masks, about which I am rather glad because I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing so. Instead I had the privilege of sitting next to Kim Lawson (the librarian in the Xwi7xwa Library), who explained to me some of the protocols of dancing and witnessing the dancing of masks.

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