As people gather in Kitamaat Village for the Homecoming celebrations, they’ll have the chance to enjoy one of the Haisla’s more recent but nonetheless iconic traditions.
The Spirit of Kitlope Dancers have been telling stories through dance and song since the 90s, when a group of youth spent time in the Kitlope Valley for a camp.
“The group originated back in the 90s, originated from the Kitlope where they had a rediscovery camp for the youth,” explained one of the current group leaders, Shelley Bolton.
Bolton has been with the dancers since 2006, and is among the 50 or so dancers the club currently has.
Yet defining what this ‘spirit’ is can be challenging.
We asked Bolton to explain what the Spirit of Kitlope is, and in short it’s a “you have to be there” sort of thing.
“Unless you come take part and sing and you dance, some people feel it, that excitement and feel that yearning to sing some more, like I felt years ago when I first started,” she said. “It’s just something that you feel.” The dances and songs themselves have a very particular structure.
For instance each dancer dances in their own clan line.
The Beavers, Ravens, Eagles and Killer Whales clans are represented, and the Beaver is always first up, because they are the highest ranking clan in the Haisla community right now.
The song and dance routines all tell a story, whether it’s to honour the women, or the men, or the dance could be as a strength competition for the men.
As for where these songs and dances actually come from, that’s a complicated one to answer.
“These songs come from another place,” said Bolton. “Some people say they come from our ancestors and the only way I can explain it is when I first started getting songs, I was told ‘there’s so many songs out there, floating around from our ancestors and they’re waiting for the right person to come down to hold onto it.’”
Bolton hopes their dances will reach out to people who attend the Homecoming.
“We’ve performed many times and we’ve always touched a few people,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll get some interest when everybody comes home.”