Hobiyee festival brightens Vancouver

Posted on January 31, 2018

Many travellers assume they need to venture to the traditional territory of Indigenous communities in order to witness their grand celebrations. While that is often the case for potlatch ceremonies, pow-wows and other festivities, one distinct annual gathering takes place in Vancouver, and all are welcome.

Hobiyee (pronounced ho-bee-yeah) commemorates the Nisga’a Nation’s lunar new year and sparks life into the PNE Forum during the cold, wet season in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Historically, the Nisga’a people — whose home is in the Nass Valley, about 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) north of Vancouver — observed the moon in February. If the crescent moon is in the shape of a Hoobix (the bowl of the Nisg̱a’a wooden spoon) with the ends pointing upward, this meant there would be a bountiful year of harvest for the Nisg̱a’aTo celebrate the coming year of abundance, the Nisg̱a’a gathered and celebrated through song, dance, and storytelling.

The Hobiyee program includes hours of entertainment within the PNE Forumthe site of Vancouver’s annual summer carnival and exhibition, and whose arena has seating for more than 5,000 attendees. Vancouver, called Ts’amiks by the Nisga’a, is home to approximately 1,400 members of the Nisg̱a’a Nation – whose overall population numbers greater than 7,400.

During the festival, guests will learn about the Nisg̱a’a culture and perhaps be inspired to journey to visit Nisg̱a’a Lands in northwestern British Columbia to explore historic sites in the Nass Valley. Among the attractions is the 18,000-hectare Nisg̱a’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park, where a volcano erupted three centuries ago. It is a memorial site because thousands of Nisg̱a’a people died during the eruption, which destroyed villages and left behind a unique landscape with grey and black lava, and otherworldly features. The eruption in the 18th century was the last volcanic explosion to take place in Canada.

In the Nass Valley, Hobiyee celebrations rotate annually through the four Nisga’a villages. The names of these villages have recently been changed back to their traditional identifiers. They include Gitlax̱t’aamiks (New Aiyansh), considered the capital of the Nisg̱a’a Nation, Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Lax̱g̱alts’ap (Greenville), and Ging̱olx (Kincolith). This year’s celebration will be held at the Lax̱g̱alts’ap Community Centre February 23 & February 24, 2018.

Hobiyee is only one of many cultural celebrations unique to the Nisga’a. Others festivals take place throughout the year in the Nass Valley and are commonly associated with the traditional foods harvested in a given season. Some of them include: X̱saak, which occurs in March and is symbolized by oolichans, or candlefish, the first food harvested after winter. In April, Mm̓aal marks the use of canoes following the breaking of ice on the Nass River. In August, W’ii Hoon, or Great Salmon, features a massive harvest of the revered fish that has sustained life in the Nass Valley for millennia.

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