Dos Polacas: Photography, Heart and Stories
Ceremony and Feast - Lalakenis/All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity
It started off slowly in the shiny, new Great Hall on the UBC campus. Native people arrived, carrying blankets, carved and painted masks, a buffalo skull, hands drums and regalia. Friends greeted each other with laughter and hugs. Chief Beau Dick, whose Kwakwaka’wakw name is Walas Gyiyam, strolled through, continuously welcoming arrivals, answering his cell phone and providing a mobile focal point for the festivities. The two-day event - “Lalakenis/All Direction: A Journey of Truth and Unity” was about to begin.
This was a culmination of a series of events originally sparked by a conversation one day in 2013 between Beau and his daughters, Linnea and Geraldine. They decided to support Idle No More, the indigenous treaty rights protest movement, by traveling with other companions from Quatsino, an isolated village on the west side of Vancouver Island, to Victoria, the provincial seat of government, to break a copper on the steps of the provincial government building. Like a rock dropped into a pond, the ripples from their decision have spread far and risen high. Awalaskenis, the name given to the 2013 and 2014 journeys, was also Beau's father, Blackie Dick's, name. It means “to make a great statement.” Now a year and a half later it was time for reflection and renewal.
In the Great Hall matriarchs and other elders found their seats in the front row, in potlatch fashion. And so it began. Chief Robert Joseph of Reconciliation Canada, known affectionately as Bobbie Joe, spoke movingly to the gathered people about healing and love. Robert Willams, Beau’s nephew and the Master of Ceremonies, introduced the attending chiefs. Each chief came forward to acknowledge the presence of the matriarchs and that we were on “unceded” Musqueam territory, a very important distinction. This politically charged adjective describes land never signed away through treaty or conquered by war. The “unceded” distinction lies at the heart of a vast resurgence of indigenous environmentalism grounded in ancient beliefs and now upheld by Canada’s Supreme Court. It was the catalyst of a cultural, political and spiritual explosion.
Twelve hours we listened with rapt attention, feeling the strength, healing and resilience of all the participants, on a roller coaster of emotions, responding to songs, stories and dances. Giindajin Haawasti Guujaaw, the Haida carver and former president of the Haida Nation and maker of Taaw, the copper, recounted his story of the Journeys. High-energy Fancy Dancers from the plains brought smiles and raised the vitality felt into the hall. Gaioosteese of the Lakota nation, created a sacred altar with buffalo skin and pipe, eagle flutes and burning of sacred herbs and the graced everyone present with a pipe ceremony which was circled by members of the audience carefully selected by Chef Beau Dick. Many ceremonies honored indigenous students who had earned degrees and come back to help their people. Difficult personal and political subjects were aired, witnessed, and responded to with love, compassion and patience. Babies received their first tribal names while the audience created a great chorus when Robert Williams asked us to repeat the names they were given. Laughter at the cooing babies mixed with their loud cries and created a warm family environment. Beau’s warmth and generosity was encouraging, inclusive and relaxed. He was honored by many, including two young people who gifted the chief with a handsome hat and a vest emblazoned with a copper commemorating Awalaskenis and the momentous journeys of 2013 and 2014. Beau’s mother, a matriarch, was present when Beau, in an emotional ceremony, bestowed one of her Kwakwaka’wakw names on LaTiesha Fazakis, a gallery owner who has steadfastly supported Beau and indeed traveled with the group from Quatsino to Victoria.
Throughout the Ceremony and Feast, the images of broken coppers on the buildings’ steps in Victoria BC and at Ottawa’s National Parliament and these two great journeys were recalled in heart-stirring detail by the participants present, raising the stakes over indigenous treaty rights and the environment. Gratification for the integrity shown by these journeys bloomed throughout the hall among native and non-native alike.