Monday, July 21, 2014

Bella Bella, Another world

Wagasila Welcome Center
We spent a few days hanging around Bella Bella, also known as Wagasila.  This year our arrival happened to coincide with the Heiltsik Nation "Qatuwas".  Yes I might be speaking a different language.  Translated, coastal natives from around the Pacific, including Hawaii, Washington, Alaska and even a small contingent from New Zealand arrived in beautifully hand carved canoes for a week long party.
Rows upon rows of Canoes
Most paddled at least from the south coast of BC up to here, a distance of about 500 NM.   It took us 4 weeks to make the same journey in a well equiped and very comfortable sailboat complete with an engine, running water and comfortable beds.  These people paddled in three weeks with no comforts what so ever rain or shine.
Once they arrived in Bella Bella there was a day long ceremony where each tribal leader asked for permission to approach the beach in peace as friends of the hosts.  After paddling in a relatively small canoe with 15 other stinky people for three weeks we were amazed at the restraint shown by the 35 to 40 canoes.  Symbolic ceremony is very important to all involved.
Floating Artwork
One of the alien things most "white people" including us had a hard time reconciling was that ALL were welcome.  Having nothing to offer except our selves we felt strange being included in the festivities and chose to watch the pageantry from a slight distance.  When they all went for meals we went back to the boat and had our own meals.  A couple of other boats had none of these North American hangups and jumped in with both feet, getting fully involved, fed and housed for the full week.  We are sure they were better for it and during our travels over the next few years vow to try to remove these silly notions that have been ingrained in us about etiquette and go "Native".
As it was, what we did experience was amazing and seeing their culture thriving despite all of our ancestors attempts to destroy it was pretty neat.
If you are ever in a place where one of these events is being held, be braver than us and get fully involved as if you were one of them.  You will be accepted into their families for sure.

Protocol (ie Party in the field)

1 comment:

  1. I am Heiltsuk fron Bella Bella and was the Communications Coordinator for the gathering Qatuwas which is my sisters name and means 'People gathering together.' I have some advice for you. What we were doing was not pageantry nor was it for entertainment for ourselves or others, even if we were entertained. Outsiders are included & asked to participate to support the important work that is being done. It is quite a different ideology if you do not come from our culture. It is rooted in place-based knowledge systems that exist still because we are still alive and exist within our homelands. Everything is ceremony; food, song, dance, gifting, and more. Everyone has a place being a bystander is considered very rude and western because like I said what we do is not for show or entertainment but instead many intentional practices are play; education through the intergenerational tranference of knowledge, history-marking through song and dance, affirmation of traditional and modern kinship systems and much more. You said "Go Native" this is offensive because we are not cultures frozen in time that are primitive. I feel sad that the society and cultural notions you adhere keep you so rigid and held-back. Wai.