Aboriginal Cultural Festival Celebrates Unity

Ronald R. Barbour

When nations that are historically and traditionally at odds, or even at war, put aside their differences to come together and celebrate their similarities, culture and uniqueness – it must be another Aboriginal Cultural Festival.

The 5th Annual Aboriginal Cultural Festival brought together many nations representative of the vast diversity of the West Coast First Nations. People were drawn from their own lands to come to Coast Salish territory to join in this celebration of culture including the Dene, the Haida, the Kwakiutl, Nisga’a, Gitksan, Cree, and Ojibwe. It does the heart good to see this festive gathering of nations and peoples. The theme of, “Bringing the people together” made its indelible mark on the minds of the thousands that came to Squamish territory to witness this event.

This year’s festival marked a significant change from the venues where the festival had been held previous years – the Pacific Coliseum and the Plaza of Nations. The organizers, led by Festival Coordinator Rose Holzer-Tambour, took the festival to a place where many think it should have been from the beginning – out in the open, communing with the forces of nature.

“The concept was to come over to Squamish Territory and form a working relationship with Squamish Nation,” says Holzer-Tambour. “[This] is a first step for the urban Aboriginal community such as the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and organize an event in conjunction with their territory.”

For those with a penchant for soaking in West Coast style song and dance, the new festival site at the Squamish Nation’s Capilano Longhouse provided an ideal location.

“It’s very traditional, it’s much more comfortable than the Coliseum.” states Holzer-Tambour of the Longhouse. “It was one of the big highlights for this year’s events.”

In a great ceremony of respect and protocol, many honours were bestowed upon some of the dignitaries and elders that graced the festival. Venerable elders Khot La Cha (Chief Simon Baker), who welcomed everyone to his traditional territory and then delivered the invocation after the opening night’s grand entry; elder and spokesperson for the Burrard Band, Bob George, and Musqueam elder, Vince Stogan (who was not present due to illness in the family) were honoured and recognized for serving their communities and their distinguished work for all First Nations.

“How many drums have we heard today? Twenty? Thirty?” George asked the crowd rhetorically after accepting his gifts. “What about 30,000 – that could make a sound that could be heard around the world.

Bristling with emotion and punctuating his words with clenched fists, George brought the Longhouse down when he asserted emphatically that we had to stop fighting each other and unite.

“It is through this unity that will make us strong,” urged George.

Truly the Great Spirit must have moved through his body and touched everyone that was present, and the words he spoke of unity with purity of mind and spirit truly proved he is his father’s son.

The Pow-Wow itinerary held in the sports fields that was not even a stone’s throw from the Longhouse, kept those in the mood for fancy dancing, traditional and glass dances, enthralled throughout the weekend.

When asked about the success of the Festival, Holzer-Tambour smiled and let out a huge sigh of relief.

“It was very exciting,” beamed Holzer-Tambor. “It was very authentic and it was a very special.”

It seemed that the most difficulty anyone had was deciding between the watching the dancing, hearing the singing or witnessing the fascinating events inside the Longhouse.