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Vanessa Parnell sings with her Indigenous group at Hobiyee 2019, which ran Feb. 1 to 2 at the PNE Forum in Vancouver.

Hobiyee celebrates survival and resilience

The Nisga’a lunar celebration brings together Indigenous people from across the Lower Mainland's mosaic of nations.

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When I think about Hobiyee at the PNE Forum in Vancouver, I think about how much it’s grown since its inception, now bringing together urban Indigenous people from a variety of nations, and even non-Indigenous people to share in the tradition.

Hobiyee is a Nisga’a lunar celebration. According to the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Vancouver Society, Hobiyee marks the waxing crescent moon. The position of the moon and stars are said to fortell a bountiful harvest or not.

The floor was cleansed with eagle down before this group’s performance at Hobiyee 2019. 

The annual celebration historically took place in the Nass Valley in northern B.C. but as Nisga’a citizens moved to cities along with other Indigenous people, they brought traditions like Hobiyee with them.

Though it is a Nisga’a tradition, the event now brings together other Indigenous groups from across the city’s mosaic of urban First Nations, especially since some people adopt the traditions of other nations if they find themselves disconnected from their own homelands. Rather than relinquish their Indigeneity, some adopt each other’s protocols as a cultural surrogate for their own traditions.

Hobiyee gives urban Indigenous Lower Mainland residents an opportunity to connect with each other and our culture en masse.

Stuart Stanley dropped to one knee during Hobiyee and asked Kallie Stephens to marry him. 

My children are half Nisga’a through my wife and they are part of Hobiyee, and even spent the weekend volunteering there. They’re part of Hobiyee in a way that I’m not because I wasn’t born Nisga’a. I’m Nuu-chah-nulth and I love our people’s culture and songs. I live in East Van and I practice what culture I can on my own, but I’m not afraid to say that songs from Gitsegukla, Lil’wat or Kwakwaka’wakw resonate with me when I hear them.

Indigenous cultures, whether they are mine or not, are inspiring, and they fill spaces inside of me that no non-Indigenous prosthetic can.

To me, Hobiyee celebrates survival and resilience. As I watched last weekend’s cultural performances, I was struck by the fact that at one time Hobiyee would have been illegal to hold under the Potlatch ban law. This wasn’t a law from the Medieval era; the Canadian government only lifted the ban in 1951, and many Indigenous artifacts confiscated during the ban remain gone forever. That’s why it’s so amazing to me that traditions such as Hobiyee survived and came back.

This dancer performed in traditional regalia at Hobiyee 2019. 

And it isn’t just Indigenous people who are celebrating, either. I recall a time when I’d go to an Indigenous event and there’d only be other Indigenous people there. At Hobiyee last weekend, a large number of white people were there taking in the event like everyone else.

Hobiyee is indeed a celebration. After onslaughts like the Indian Act, residential school, the potlatch ban and diasporas away from Indigenous communities, it is a wonder that Hobiyee is here to celebrate at all.

People are talking about

  • “Did you know the city has a new Indigenous relations manager? Neither did I,” writes reporter Mike Howell in this opinion piece at the Vancouver Courier, where he muses about the city’s quiet appointment last fall.

  • This Abbotsford News story looks at how weaving self-identity and culture into education has increased Indigenous high school graduation rates in its district.

  • CBC On The Coast interviews Kwantlen First Nation member Joseph A. Dandurand, who is the Vancouver Public Library’s 2019 Indigenous storyteller in residence.

  • In a Winnipeg Free Press editorial, Niigaan Sinclair explores the split in the Catholic Church over Indigenous people, and questions the church’s reluctance to apologize.

What makes life harder

Community members would benefit if more organizations and service providers collaborated, says Chris Tait. 

The biggest challenge urban Indigenous people face is the lack of collaboration between services, Chris Tait says.

Vancouver is a big place and there are a surprising number of services and resources available for Indigenous people, says the 27-year-old Gitxsan-Wet’suwet’en student, who moved to Vancouver 10 years ago (and who just started an internship with us at The Discourse).

“I’d say it’s progressing. There seems to be a lot more opportunities coming up for First Nations people,” says Chris, adding that Vancouver is fairly progressive when it comes to including Indigenous people, especially compared to smaller communities.

But more resources are needed, he continues, and change “needs to happen quicker.”

There are also multiple agencies providing these services, he notes, and “none of them are really connected to each other.”

“From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve experienced, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of collaboration,” he says.

“When it comes to funding,” he continues, “some of them are competing with each other. I think it’s unfortunate we don’t see more collaboration happen.”

The lack of collaboration among agencies also segregates the people they are supposed to serve, says Chris, who is a former youth in care and now an advocate for youth in and aging out of foster care.

“I think it divides the community itself a little bit — like, ‘I’m with this organization, these are my youth and dah, dah, dah,” he says. To him, the approach should be: “Well, these are community members, we need to find more ways to collaborate.”

“There are some grassroots organizations that are working on building those collaborations,” he notes. “I think more of that needs to happen because when places are able to collaborate you can get more done, in my opinion, and have better outcomes than staying under budget.”

Let’s gather

  • Feb. 9: “How can we best change the policies and structures that keep people on the margins?” Karen Joseph, who is Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw and the CEO of Reconciliation Canada, will explore this question through a Roddan Jubilee Lecture. These lectures were created by First United Church Community Ministry Society “to provide space for nuanced learning and dialogue on social justice issues that matter.” Take in Joseph’s talk from 3 to 5 p.m. at SFU’s Harbour Centre. Tickets are free or by donation.

  • Feb. 9: See Edge of The Knife (SG̲aawaay K̲’uuna) at The Rio. Shot entirely on Haida Gwaii, co-directed by Indigenous filmmakers Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, was “the first feature-length narrative film spoken entirely in the Haida language.” 4:15 to 6 p.m

  • Feb. 10: Fresh on the heels of Hobiyee, celebrate the Year of the Boar at this year’s Chinese New Year Parade in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The “parade will feature lion dances, cultural dance troupes, marching bands, martial arts performances and much more.” The 1.3-km route through the Downtown Eastside “starts at the Millennium Gate on Pender Street (between Shanghai Alley and Taylor Street), proceeds east along Pender Street, turns south onto Gore Street, turns west onto Keefer Street and then disperses on Keefer at Abbott.” This free public event starts at 11 a.m.

  • Feb. 13: Elder Roberta Price will facilitate a dialogue with “Indigenous and non-Indigenous nurses and health care workers and those interested in the issue of reconciliation in the context of health care.” Price is the Elder in Residence with Vancouver Coastal Health’s Aboriginal Wellness Program. 5:30 to 8 p.m. in Burnaby at 4060 Regent St. Organized by the Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research. Tickets are $10.

If you know about an event that you think should be included in this newsletter next week, send me an email.

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