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Indigenous dancers headline return of Vancouver International Children’s Festival

Dancers of Damelahamid headline the 2022 Vancouver International Children's Festival which begins on May 31.
Dancers of damelahamid
B.C. Indigenous dance group, Dancers of Damelahamid, are headlining this year's Vancouver International Children's Festival.

An Indigenous dance group from the Northwest Coast of B.C. finally gets to share its stories and performance at the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, after COVID-19 derailed its chances in 2020 and 2021.

The Dancers of Damelahamid, based in West Vancouver, bring together family members to perform Gitxsan and Cree stories through dance during the weeklong festival held May 31 to June 5.

Artistic director and founder Margaret Grenier said the group is really excited to perform, after “waiting and waiting” for the opportunity to arise again at the festival which she described as one which integrates many different voices and experiences.

“It just feels really nice to be able to gather again, to be able to do the work with the focus on youth. … A very large part of our mandate and our focus is performances for youth.”

As an Indigenous dance company, Grenier said along with the importance of sharing stories, songs, and histories with audiences, focusing on youth “is just a beautiful way to share, because there’s such an openness that young people have.”

The focus that the group has on youth, Grenier said, is for two reasons: When she was growing up, she felt a shyness, “and even shame,” about sharing her culture with her peers and broader community.

“When you're with your community, you are immersed in something, and celebrating these practices, but then … it was bit intimidating to share that outside of that,” she explained. “And I think that it's so important that our young Indigenous people grow up with that really grounded place, and their own identity, and to be able to share that with the broader community.”

Grenier said the cross-cultural relationship building that comes from the performances have been impactful for not only audiences, but for the group’s dancers as well.

“It leaves a really important impression on our young audiences, and to carry that with you and to have that relationship as part of the way our young people are forming and shaping their understanding of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous history here in these lands,” she said.

“[In the context of] our contemporary practices, I think that's really important to … have those experiences in a really enjoyable way, and not just in the format of learning about it through school, but have something that is going out and enjoying the time spent together.”

For the children’s festival, the group will be performing its Spirit and Tradition dance, one which Grenier said focuses on connection to lands, taking care of one another, and taking care of resources.

“So we can see ourselves as part of an integrated part of our ecosystem, and the way that this is valued within our ancestral teachings.

“[We didn’t] adapt the teachings into song and dance. Song and dance is our way of carrying and sharing these teachings and so it's very much sharing that space within our traditional form, but we've also integrated projection and other production elements to help to support our audience to understand what they're seeing,” she said.

Vancouver International Children’s Festival

When: May 31 to June 5, 2022 in-person on Granville Island, and May 31 to June 12 online. Visit the festival's website for more information

Charlie Carey is the North Shore News' Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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