“You feel it to your core; it is a heartbeat; so uplifting; it just goes right through me.”
Steve Smith, the chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, is trying to explain what drumming means to him and his First Nation. “It was dormant in me for quite a while,” says Chief Smith. “But it is waking up. “A big part of it for me is the look in our young people’s eyes and how it helps build their spirit.”
But this is Champagne and Aishihik and it is in their nature to share.
So, from June 12 to 14, the first bi-annual festival of aboriginal drumming and dance will be held at the Da Kų Cultural Centre in Haines Junction.
It is a free event that will see workshops on song creation, drum and regalia making, sheep horn carving, making moose hoof rattles, storytelling, and more. And drumming. Lots of drumming. After all, it is called the Da Kų Nän Ts’étthèt, which means, “Our House is Waking up the Land”. “It is not just waking up the people and the animals in the summer of the year,” Chief Smith explains. “It is also symbolic of rebuilding our own culture and starting to embrace it and share it. “And it is already a success, given the fact that we have 12 dance groups coming from North Alaska, all the way through the Yukon and two drum groups from Haines, Alaska. “Our First Nation Council is building connections, and that is a huge encompassing statement. It is a connection to our land and our culture and our neighbours. “If you look at our neighbours, we have many shared songs that we are a part of. “And we have several members, who live in Alaska, and they bring back songs to us that we shared with them many, many years ago. “It really is us sharing our culture and sharing our drumming.”
They are also sharing the community of Haines Junction, this weekend, with the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival.
That festival has sold out of its weekend passes while the Da Kų Nän Ts’étthèt Festiva l has free admission. So, Chief Smith sees it as a bonus for everyone. “We have overlapping demographics,” he says. “People will wander over to both events. “We are just happy that we are able to contribute to the economy of Haines Junction.”
And Chief Smith himself will be performing. “I stepped away from it for quite a few years, but the pull was too strong so I started back early in 2014.”
He is a member of the Dakwäkäda Dancers and a men’s drum group. The opening ceremony, featuring the lighting of the sacred fire, is on Friday at 5 p.m. Performances start at 7 p.m.
Workshops will be held all day Saturday and Sunday morning, while performances begin again Saturday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and again from 7 to 11 p.m. From 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, there will be Welcoming Ceremonies and a Grand Parade.
Sunday morning will see more workshops and the final performances will be from 1 to 4 p.m.
The event will end with the singing of songs created by attendees during the workshops: a main goal of the weekend.
All of the events will be held at the Da Kų Cultural Centre. “We look at our cultural centre as a living institution,” says Chief Smith. “It is not just a place to hold our artifacts. “It is not just a place to walk through quietly. “It is a centerpiece for us to celebrate and revitalize our culture and allows us to embrace it.”