An aboriginal dancer in full regalia under a model of the crescent moon, a sign of good harvests to come

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday this year, we have much to be thankful for and proud of. But we also have our dark stories and grievous errors. One of the biggest was the attempt to assimilate our native people through the use of residential schools to solve the “Indian Problem”. Thank goodness, it didn’t work! Our First Nations culture was on full display earlier this month in Vancouver at the Hobiyee, a celebration of the Lunar New Year. And what a privilege it was to be asked to be their photographer!

When the first crescent moon of the year appears, its upward pointing bowl represents the coming abundant harvest and the end of the winter’s reliance on dried food. For generations, this is a time of great celebration. And so it was on February 3 & 4 as native groups from all over BC came together in Vancouver and shared their songs, dances and friendship.

As a non-aboriginal, I was aware that this was not my party. Yet, I was warmly welcomed and treated as an insider. I saw, heard and felt the profound joy of honouring one’s tradition and culture and the freedom in being true to one’s spirit. It was more than a celebration of abundance to come. It was the outward expression of a highly prized culture and comes from deep within.

When it was all over, these words came from one of the organizers: My voice is shot, my legs are sore, my brain is dead, but I would do it all again. Just so I can be surrounded by my people and my culture. (Laura Lewis)

 

Dancers enter the auditorium with drums and loud voices.
The Grand Entry is a parade of all the dance groups into the auditorium, accompanied by singing and drumming.
Squamish dancers with paddles enter the dance floor.
Dancers from the Squamish First Nation enter the arena.
An aboriginal dancer dressed as an eagle to represent his family's clan.
This dancer proudly represents his family’s Eagle clan.
An aboriginal dance leader
The staff indicates this woman is the leader of the dance.
Young aboriginal dancer pauses
Pride in his culture.
Fierce warriors chant and drum.
Fierce looking warriors chant their songs and beat their drums
Dancers in regalia appear to be ready to fight.
As part of a dance, Hobiyee warriors face off.
Warriors toss a cedar ring without using their hands.
In an unbelievable act of skill, these warriors, without use of hands, fling the cedar ring that is around their neck to the other, who catches it on his shoulders, no hands. During the dance, this happened flawlessly many times.
Down feathers released by aboriginal dancers
The culmination of one of the dances is the release of down feathers, a sacred act.
Children and elders love the Hobiyee celebration
The joy of the Hobiyee transcends the generations. This little guy watches and learns.
An infant sleeps on her mother's back while she prepares to dance.
Children from a very early age enjoying, or sleeping through, the celebrations.

Children play at the Hobiyee.

children dance and play at the Hobyee.
While her mother danced, this little one played at her feet.
Regalia is elaborately adorned with artwork
Beautiful details of the elaborate regalia

Regalia is adorned with beautiful carvings.

Laughter among the dancers at the Hobiyee 2017
A dancer enjoying a light moment, reflecting the mood of the day.
Beautiful regalia worn by the dancers.
There was beauty in every direction.
Dancers watching and waiting for their cue.
Dancers watch and wait for their turn to entertain.
Two woman hug in celebration of friendship.
Genuine affection was on display.
People of all ages drum with joy at the Hobiyee.
Embracing the culture, enjoyed by everyone.
Drummers in a line hold up their drum
Drummers from all nations join together as the Hobiyee draws to a close.
everyone gathers under the crescent moon to bring the Hobiyee to a close.
With all the participants and audience invited to the floor, the Hobiyee comes to a glorious close, under the crescent moon and a scattering of down feathers.

About the photographs

In less than two months I will be in Peru, enjoying the amazing scenery there and the people, hoping to capture a sense of their culture with my camera. And then I wonder, why do I need to go so far to photograph a unique culture? It’s right here! I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to photograph events like this.

This was my second visit to a Hobiyee. In 2015, I also attended and made many photographs. In each case, my photos were made with a deep respect for the people involved. In every shot, my goal is to portray the joyful celebration of coming together, the emotion, the passing on to the younger generation, and the connections between them. One of the greatest challenges of such an event is not knowing what is coming next or where it might be, so that I can be in a good vantage point. Two things are very helpful: one is a little luck and the other is knowing my camera inside and out so that I can quickly respond to the changing positions.

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