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Photo by Vama Saini

ArtXpeditions showcases Indigenous culture and resilience

By Vama Saini, September 17 2023—

Organized by Arts Commons, ArtsXpeditions is an event series featuring free artistic performances at Olympic Plaza, showcasing local talent throughout the summer and into September. On Sept. 7, Chantal Chagnon & Dancers took the stage to tell their story through song and dance.

The performance began with Chagnon, a talented musician and storyteller, sharing her deeply personal “Drum Song.” She explained that she had learned this song from a friend years ago, and when she sang it for her aunt during the album preparation, her aunt recognized it as a long-lost family song that had now returned home.

Set to the beat of the drums, Chagnon introduced the women’s traditional dance. This dance symbolizes the deep connection between women, the land and the changing seasons. During this dance, women would walk the land, assessing berry ripeness by observing bears, spreading seeds and pollen and adorning their skirts with fringes to awaken the earth in spring. This tradition honours the unique connection women have with the Earth. 

Next was the butterfly dance, a moving story of healing and hope accompanied by the melodies of the “Raven Song.” This narrative dance tells the tale of a father’s vision quest to save his ailing daughter. The butterflies that enveloped her during this quest became a symbol of healing, leading to the recovery of his daughter and the birth of the butterfly dance. This powerful narrative is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

The jingle dress dance followed, with 365 jingles — one for each day of the year. This dance is a tribute to water, as the jingles produce a melodic sound reminiscent of ocean waves, signifying both healing and a deep connection to the environment. The dress pays homage to a history marked by challenges like residential schools and colonialism and represents hope and healing for the future. This dance harmonizes with the “Water Song.”

The “Bear Song” emphasized the importance of nature and living in harmony with the land. The bear, seen as a wise teacher, guides Indigenous communities on when and what to eat, illustrating the interconnectedness of all living beings. Accompanying this was the grass dance, reflecting Indigenous nomadic history and their commitment to treading lightly on the Earth. This dance embodies the idea of working with nature, leaving minimal impact and providing a foundation for future generations.

Chagnon spoke to the audience about the pain passed down through generations from residential schools and how she broke the cycle of abuse in her own family. She shared her experience of finding healing by reconnecting with her cultural heritage through songs, stories and traditions.

To spread healing, Chagnon introduced the “Wailing Song,” a special ceremonial song once kept secret by elders but now shared openly with the community. It’s believed to bring healing in many ways. Chagnon elaborated that this song pays homage to the four fundamental elements — mind, body, heart and spirit. It is sung in groups of four as a gesture of respect for these integral aspects of our existence.

As summer fades away, don’t miss the opportunity to experience inspiring local performances like these. For more information and future performance dates, visit the Arts Commons website

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