Tsatsu Stalqayu truly exemplified the powerful defiance of the attempted destruction as the whole group sang and danced in the traditional ways of their people.
Indigenous strength on display
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
On Thursday, September 30, Canada honoured the inaugural Orange Shirt day and Truth and Reconciliation day of remembrance. As part of their cultural outreach, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) hosted ‘Xweýene:msta:m ?əkwəsqwel, seýeḿ’ (translated as a call to witness/listen to respected one). Beginning at noon, the event included speeches from MP Heidi Frye, MLA Melanie Mark and Squamish Elder Byron Joseph. This event was meant as a sharing between local Indigenous speakers and performers and the wider Vancouver public.
The performances were led by three groups: Butterflies in Spirit, Mortal Coil Performance Society and Tsatsu Stalqayu (translated as Coastal Wolf Pack). Butterflies in Spirit is a dance group comprised of family members of missing indigenous women. Their goal is to continue to raise awareness for their disappeared loved ones and fight for answers. Mortal Coil Performance Society is a theatre and stilts society that aims to share intriguing stories and history with audiences far and wide. Finally, Tsatsu Stalqayu is a Coast Salish group with over 50 members aiming to share their traditional ways and songs in the spirit of their ancestors.
Though there were easily several hundred people gathered for the event, the atmosphere remained attentive and respectful. As the speeches were delivered, it was clear that everyone present had a genuine interest in recognizing the history and moving forwards with reconciliation. I for one felt both the gravity of the residential school’s history but also the shared need for progress as felt by those in attendance.
The performances themselves focused both on honouring the children lost and traumatized while also celebrating the resurgence of Indigenous culture and activity across Canada. Butterflies in Spirit and Mortal Coil performed together to outline the coming of the missionaries and the subsequent founding of the residential schools. Their joint performance began with tall and grotesque figures representing priests, nuns and what appeared to be a government official ordering the removal of indigenous children. From there, the two troupes acted out some of the horrors abducted children faced before an elder spirit and a bird spirit returned to vanquish the church and government officials. Butterflies in Spirit would also perform a dance on the steps of VAG led by one of their members rapping and urging the crowd in call and response. The final performances by Tsatsu Stalqayu truly exemplified the powerful defiance of the attempted destruction as the whole group sang and danced in the traditional ways of their people.
Though the event at VAG was successful, the day was spoiled in hindsight by PM Trudeaus vacationing. While the rest of the country was engaged in the hard work of reconciliation and self-education, our prime minister felt the need to stretch his legs on the beaches of Tofino. Maybe he felt he needed a vacation after the unnecessary election he had called. Nonetheless, bereft of our leader, most Canadians truly did try to partake in an honest reflection.