An Invitation to a Native Potlatch – Alert Bay, B.C.

We woke up in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, B.C., and while it wasn’t raining, the puddles in the parking lot were frozen. The further north we went after we left the hotel, the more the land surrounding us became open and remote. In all directions it became dense and thickly forested. All different shades of green could be seen amongst the auburn hibernation of some perennials. I had just finished my coffee a when a deer bounded into our lane of traffic.IMG_1071The deer stopped long enough that I had eye contact with him. Then off he went, bounding into the undergrowth. We got on the ferry for Alert Bay (which is on Cormorant Island) at 11:30. It was packed, it’s not a big island but people were coming from all over to be a part of this ceremony. It was Marcus Alfred’s induction as a chief to the Kwa Kwa Ka-wak wak and most of the people on the ferry had a hushed sense of excitement about them.IMG_1316Our first stop was the native burial ground where they had just unveiled the islands newest totem pole. The silence of the island was intensified after the hours of highways and ferries it took to get there. The Burial ground looked out over the bay towards the west. Standing next to large totem poles in the unexpected sunshine, they had an energy that felt strong, protective and confident.  Their perch on the grassy knoll looked out over the steel-blue sea.IMG_1324When we got to the longhouse I was prepared for an authentic experience, and as soon as I stepped out of the car I knew that’s what I would be getting.IMG_1187What was most impressive about the ceremony was how intricate, and in depth, the history and story telling was. The elders sat in a row in front of the perpetually crackling fire. Behind them sat a row of younger men who beat on drums and created a thunderous and deep roar. The rhythm they created thumped through the four hundred or more people and we were all somatically connected by it.IMG_1327The fire had multiple people tending to it, placing thick 6-foot sections of Cedar every few minutes.IMG_1117The younger tribal chiefs were the story tellers, with tales of family history mixed with ceremonial dances dedicated to different animals, plants, the sun, wind and rain. The dancers wore speculator masks and robes, and danced around the burning fire. The fire shot sparks towards the openings in the roof and the blue-gray smoke in.IMG_1328





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