A Celebration of Living Culture

Posted on July 5, 2015
  • Bear Dance1 of 3  Bear Dance, Le-la-la Dancers, Kwakwaka' wakw Nation BC
  • Aboriginal Day in Victoria2 of 3  Dancers from Native Thunder Productions, Lil'wat BC
  • Devon Lepine dances the Prayer Dance3 of 3  Devon Lepine, Songhees Nation, dances the Prayer Dance

Don Enright reflects on the riches of Victoria’s Aboriginal Cultural Festival (Photo Credit: Donald Enright and Tom Ediger)

As you may already know, Aboriginal Tourism BC recently partnered with Toque & Canoe, a nationally award-winning online magazine that features stories about Canadian travel culture. 

Most recently, Toque & Canoe sent correspondent Don Enright and photographer Tom Ediger to Vancouver Island to experience this year’s Aboriginal Cultural Festival in Victoria, which wrapped up on National Aboriginal Day. 

We asked Don what he thought about his latest assignment. Here’s what he had to say:

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Why did Victoria’s Aboriginal Cultural Festival appeal to you as a traveller and a storyteller?

Don: I spent the winter photographing traditional dancers and singers as part of my travels in Asia. No matter where I travelled, there was always a welcoming performance for visitors—whether it was Vietnam, the Philippines, or Southern Bali. I have never had the chance to report on Aboriginal performers here at home.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: What, for you, were the festival highlights?

Don: The people I met really stand out: the artists, the historians, the cultural leaders and elders. Everyone was so generous with their time and knowledge. I’m thinking of Leslie McGarry, a fifth-generation cultural interpreter. I toured with her through the Royal BC Museum and through a First Nations’ art exhibit at Swan’s Hotel & Brewpub. Her knowledge is astounding and her family connections in BC’s First Nations heritage are deep.

Then there was Andy Everson—an anthropologist, singer, dancer, and cultural leader, with a Comox First Nations background. His passion for his culture was infectious. Clarence Dick also comes to mind. He’s a gifted carver from the Songhees First Nation. He showed me his stunning artwork at the Songhees Wellness Centre. And I won’t forget Mark Albany, a local First Nations historian who showed me corners of downtown Victoria that I didn’t know existed. And I used to live there!

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Did you try any of the festival’s Aboriginal cuisine?

Don: Salmon, of course. And the biggest chunk of bannock I have ever eaten. I thought I would explode.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Now that you’ve been, how would you describe the spirit of this event?

Don: It had a huge family vibe. The artists start very, very young. There were three-year-olds on stage and they knew what they were doing. There was also a strong presence of youth—young adults who are keenly embracing their traditions and seem to be having a blast doing it.

To be honest, I felt like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report wasn’t far from people’s minds. It came to the fore when I spoke one-on-one with some of the artists. They spoke of events, like this festival, in the context of healing. Overall, being at the festival left me feeling positive and energized. It was definitely a celebration and there was a real bond between the audience and the artists.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Who do you think would enjoy this festival?

Don: Anyone who likes a good summer festival, who wants to see Aboriginal culture at its biggest, proudest and most spectacular. Anyone who wants to learn a little bit about the history and future of Aboriginal culture here on the coast.

I learned tons. In terms of history, who these people are and what they’ve been through. I learned a lot from walking and museum tours and I learned a ton about Victoria’s history—good and bad—as a hub for First Nations culture. Historically, for example, people from different locations would mingle here post-European contact, and that’s how illnesses spread all over the coast.

Aboriginal Tourism BC: Any advice for folks who missed the festival this year, but who may want to attend next year?

Don: Spend time talking to people: the dancers, the vendors, the elders walking about, the other festival-goers. Take in some of the tours. There’s much more to this outdoor festival than drumming and dance, though that part is important and amazing. Finally, it’s Victoria so temperatures can get pretty hot in June. Wear sunscreen, lots of sunscreen.

If you missed our last collaboration with Toque & Canoe, check out our interview with editor-in-chief Kim Gray about the production of Tasting Turtle Island: Aboriginal cuisine goes mainstream. That story also appears in New York City-based magazine Travelsquire.com and Kim had an opportunity to explore the topic on her Alberta-wide CBC radio travel column.