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Collaboration of cultures

Babaylan Conference
Kathara indigenous arts group will perform at the Babaylan conference.

An unusual conference is taking place at the YMCA’s Camp Elphinstone Sept. 23 to 25 – a collaboration of Filipino and indigenous peoples, titled the third international Babaylan Conference.

Babaylan is a Filipino term that means shaman or healer and it represents the healing objectives of this conference, said JR Guerrero, co-founder and music director of the Kathara Pilipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society.  Kathara showcases at the Surrey Fusion Festival annually, engaging audiences in a vibrant musical dance presentation that features inter-generational, mixed heritage artists.

“For the past years we have worked more on the revitalization of our culture,” Guerrero said.

Kathara and the Centre for Babaylan Studies (CfBS) is co-creating the Babaylan Conference on Squamish Territory, which they describe as unceded Coast Salish Territories of B.C. (Previous conferences were in the Philippines in 2010 and California in 2013.) 

Guerrero describes the huge diaspora of Filipinos to all parts of the globe and how they have observed the history and movements of other indigenous peoples who are reclaiming their ancestral heritage. The conference highlights the collective resilience of colonized societies in the Philippines and in North America, and on how a return to indigenous practices can bring about healing.

The participation of Squamish Chief Ian Campbell, Mandy Nahanee and other local First Nations attendees at this conference shows the growing connection between Filipino communities and indigenous Coast Salish. A canoe and blanket ceremony will mark the beginning of the conference on Friday, Sept. 23, leaving from Langdale ferry terminal towards the nearby camp.

Other presentations include Makasaysayang Pagtatagpo or Historic Encounters between Filipinos and Turtle Islanders: Revitalizing Ancestral Traditions Together, about building mutual respect for experiences and world views held in common, historical differences and diversity. 

One of the keynote speakers this year is an indigenous woman babaylan (healer-leader) from Mindanao, the southern region of the Philippines, who has tirelessly served to promote peace, dialogue and her people and land’s self-sovereignty amidst the region’s violence. This marks her farthest journey out of her homeland. Another keynote speaker is Lily Mendoza, a Filipino-American professor who specializes in critical intercultural communication.

The opening plenary panel will include Indipinos (a colloquial term for mixed Indigenous and Filipino): Rulan Tangen is Kapampangan and Métis, Diveena Marcus of Filipino and Pomo heritage, and a local Filipino and Coast Salish participant.

Kathara will collaborate on a live performance that Guerrero describes as touching. Butterflies in Spirit is a dance troupe made up of mostly family members of missing and murdered indigenous women and commemorates the victims of violence in Vancouver and across Canada. Their fusion of contemporary, hip hop with traditional dance is choreographed by PowWow dancer Madelaine McCallum and for the first time with live musical accompaniment by Kathara.

For more information, contact or JR Guerrero at 604-779-4209 or at If you are considering registering, don’t delay, as they are almost full at 150 participants.