We were heading up the mighty Fraser river for the 3rd time to take part in the 20th Stikine Gospel Music Festival.
3 years ago we were invited by Grand Chief Lynda Prince to visit the Tahltan people of Dease Lake area in Northern British Columbia for their music festival. During this event 120 drums were being bought to the land and played as a symbolic act of returning the drum to it’s people. The Tahltan people had their drums, language, regalia and culture stripped from them in a governmental assimilation policy carried out in partnership with the church through residential boarding schools. Its objectives were to remove First Nations children from the influence of their families and traditions, and to assimilate them into the incoming culture. In Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s official apology in 2008, he said “Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child.” Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”
On returning to the festival in 2017, apart from a couple of hand drums (that had been gifted the previous year), the Abba drum, (large gathering drum) was absent. This saddened Rebekah and I and so this year we commissioned a good friend Jerry Chapman from the Stó-Lō Nation to build a drum for the people. This gift was especially poignant as my mother was Irish Catholic – the people and denomination who ran the residential school system.
It was an incredibly powerful time as we gave an apology and handed over the drum in an act of conciliation, many tears being shed as survivors of the schools came forward to play this drum for the first time.
The local fisheries have not allowed net fishing this year due to the extremely low numbers of Chinook Salmon returning to the Stikine river– the livelihood for this region! During the Friday evening’s gathering, a truck full of salmon traveling from Alaska crashes on a bend right outside the festival. The driver amazingly is not hurt but the truck is destroyed. Not only does this prompt passers-by to stop at the festival but the fish have to be redistributed so as not to be wasted and the village of Dease Lake and surrounding area now have enough fish for a year! Provision comes in interesting packages!
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