For generations, First Nations from across the northwest coast held potlatches.
They were ceremonial events that saw personal possessions given away as gifts or destroyed as a sign of status and wealth.
Many of these potlatches involved song, dance and feasts and were vital sources of cultural identity for First Nations.
But in 1884 potlatches became illegal when the Canadian government decided to ban the practice. It wouldn’t be until 1951 that the ban was lifted.
And while the cultural damage sustained by First Nations was heavy, it wasn’t lost.
“After the potlatch ban was lifted there was a lot of song dance revitalization on the coast,” said Margaret Grenier, artistic director for the Dancers of Damelahamid.
On Saturday (Oct. 3), the Dancers of Damelahamid will be performing Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre.
Spirit Transforming dances with the concept of renewal and transformation, something British Columbia knows all about.
“The dance piece is about rebirth,” Grenier said. “I think that in our history in B.C. we’ve gone through a lot of transformation, especially within the last 100 years.”
The production was created approximately three years ago by Grenier and is based on the traditional form of Gitxsan dance. It tells the story of a First Nations person who experiences a rebirth.
“It is about a young person in search of their identity as an aboriginal person,” Grenier said. “The main character sort of takes you through a narrative of this journey through dance.”
As artistic director, Grenier has choreographed and produced multiple works for the Dancers of Damelahamid. Her previous work has toured in places such as China, New Zealand and the Cook Islands.
Grenier came up with the idea to create Spirit Transforming shortly after the passing of her father, Ken Harris, who along with her mother, Margaret, founded the Dancers of Damelahamid in 1960.
“It is a project that has a very personal place for me,” Grenier said. “I began the creation process after my father passed. It was at a time for me where I was relooking at myself and identity as a Gitxsan woman and what that means.”
Grenier, who is of Gitxsan and Cree ancestry, says creating the production was rigorous at times and often forced her to dig deep within herself.
“For myself, in many ways, it was a coming of age. Even though I was not a young person as depicted in the dance itself,” Grenier said. “It isn’t an easy thing to look at change. It isn’t an easy thing to carry the responsibility of staying grounded in the foundation of all you have been taught and finding a way to open that and create something new.”The Dancers of Damelahamid perform Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 per person or $80 for a group of four people. They can be purchased either at the door or by visiting www.crimsoncoast.org. For additional information on the Dancers of Damelahamid and Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming, please visit firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @npescod