B.C.'s annual Coastal Dance Festival is returning to celebrate Indigenous art and culture through your computer screens next month.
But more than that, the festival's 14th iteration will celebrate resilience. Amid the hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Dancers of Damelahamid—the B.C.-based Indigenous dance company that produces the festival—suffered a massive loss to its community last year when Elder Margaret Harris died on July 15, at the age of 89.
She and her husband, Chief Ken Harris —who passed away in 2010—founded Dancers of Damelahamid in 1967. The couple was recognized throughout their lifetimes for having a profound impact on the revitalization of Indigenous song and dance along B.C.'s Northwest Coast. Some of those honours included the Centennial Medal from Queen Elizabeth in 1967, the Golden Jubilee Medal from British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor in 2003 and an induction into the National Dance Collection Danse Hall of Fame in 2019.
Elder Harris will honoured yet again during the upcoming Coastal Dance Festival, this time with the world premiere of a newly-choreographed short dance work created in her memory by the company she founded.
“Elder Margaret Harris worked hard to ensure that the cultural practices and knowledge of our Indigenous people were not lost,” explained Margaret Grenier, the festival's executive and artistic director—who also happens to be Elder Harris and Chief Harris' daughter.
“She had a transformative impact on families, communities, and culture. Through her unwavering commitment and passion, she brought life back into artistic practices along the Northwest Coast, having dedicated her life to sharing her knowledge with others in order to preserve and uphold their own ancestral songs and dances.”
In addition to this special performance, other highlights of next month's festival will include work from artists that share Harris' dedication to preserving Indigenous culture, like the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers—a Whitehorse-based dance group focused on reclaiming their languages and traditional values through singing, drumming, dancing, and storytelling. Viewers will also be able to enjoy performances from Washington-based Git Hayetsk Dancers, Git Hoan Dancers, Squamish-based Spakwus Slolem, ‘Yisya̱’winux̱w Dancers, and Alaska's David Robert Boxley, who will tell ancient stories of the Tsimshian people in both Sm’algyax and English.
“As we continue to navigate these unprecedented times due to COVID-19, it’s essential that we also celebrate the resilience and strength of our Indigenous communities,” said Grenier. “While the festival will be presented in a very different way than in past years, we are committed to providing a vital platform for the protection and preservation of Indigenous dance and protocols.
"Indigenous identity and cultural wellbeing are lived practices and it’s essential for Indigenous people to continuously practice and share their songs and dances in order to maintain them, for the wellbeing of our communities.”
This year's online festival is set to run from 9 a.m. on March 12 to 9 p.m. on March 18.
All of the Coastal Dance Festival's 2021 performances will be available for free viewing via Vimeo. In lieu of ticket prices, organizers are welcoming donations to Dancers of Damelahamid via Canada Helps. According to organizers, these donations will help fund the dance company’s educational outreach efforts, including workshops, demonstrations, and artist talks with school and youth groups.