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National Aboriginal Awareness Celebration celebrates dynamic First Nations culture

All photos by Brandon Woo

On Sunday, a large crowd gathered together at Canada Place for the National Aboriginal Awareness Celebration to enjoy dance and music performances. Organized by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC, the event is a highlight of National Aboriginal Awareness Week.


“We are proud to be First Nations,” said George Taylor, host of the event director of Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC, “but also very proud to be Canadian.”


Performing is an important aspect of Aboriginal culture. Alex Wells, a three-time World Hoop Dance champion, took the stage after the opening speech. 

“It’s not how many hoops you can do,” said Wells, who can dance with up to twenty-two hoops at a time.  “It’s just the story you can tell.”


Wells, a self-described "Lord of the Rings," channeled an avian entity with his hoops, spreading his wings. The crowd watched in awe as Wells created an orb with his hoops.



The Git Hayetsk Dancers begin after Wells: their name means "People of the Copper Shield", a reference to the ceremonial shields that are highly prized in Aboriginal culture.


Mike Dangeli, co-leader of the group explained the significance of masks in his performances. "They connect us to our ancestors, the natural world, and the spiritual world," he said. The "spirits" embodied by the dancers interacted with the audience. 



During the performance, a trickster spirit began "harassing" audience members. No need to worry, though, Dangeli explained. In First Nations lore, coming across a trickster spirit can be a positive experience.


A "northern spirit" in a pale blue costume appeared as part of another of the Git Hayetsk Dancers' dances.



More northern spirits arrived, dancing with one another.




The group saved its most moving performance performance for last. “Laws against us indigenous people – our language, our culture – did not work,” said Dangeli.  “This is our victory song.”

Audience members connected with Dangeli's words. “Aboriginal peoples must have survived through a lot of suffering, but I don’t think it’s a complete loss,” said Tiffany Yang, a Richmond citizen in the audience.

“From the mistakes people have made in the past, we can learn new lessons: better ways of understanding and treating each other."  

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