The Dancers of Damelahamid are an Indigenous dance company from the Gitxsan and Cree Nations in West Vancouver, British Columbia. The company is founded upon over five decades of extensive work of song and dance revitalisation.
The group recently came back to Australia for the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education (“WIPCE”) 2022, held in Tarndanya (Adelaide) in September of this year. The Dancers were also received with great pleasure by the Canadian High Commissioner for Australia HE Mark Glausser, and his guests, where the Dancers provided a moving performance at a cocktail evening hosted by the High Commission alongside WIPCE.
Executive and Artistic Director Margaret Grenier, caught up with the Canada Down Under team to discuss the history of the Dancers of Damelahamid, their mandate to advance public knowledge and appreciation of the art, history, language, and traditions of First Nations’ culture through story dance and song – and to emphasise the pivotal role First Nations knowledge systems will play in our evolving future.
Margaret recounts a time not so long ago, before the lifting of the Potlatch Ban in 1951, where Indigenous dance, art and culture was outlawed in Canada. The Dancers of Damelahamid emerged in the 1960’s as Margaret’s grandmother began the work of reawakening her traditional artistic practices through regalia, masks, song and dance.
Through immersion in these practices at a young age, Margaret entered into a relationship with her ancestral memories and now continues this legacy of revitalisation. The Dancers of Damelahamid share the art form around the world, educating communities on the integral connection between dance, identity and ancestral knowledge, and uplifting local, national and Indigenous artists in the process.
Standing with global Indigenous communities
Uplifting and standing in solidarity are key values of the Dancers of Damelahamid – and a driving reason behind the company’s attendance at WIPCE for the fifth year running. Margaret shared her hopes of spending the week-long conference reconnecting with the global Indigenous community in-person after a number of years during the pandemic where traditional ways of gathering and practicing together were not available.
Margaret discussed First Nations Australians’ and Canadians’ shared colonial history, common attitudes towards land care and custodianship, and the way in which traditional knowledge, language and identity are passed down and expressed through Indigenous practices of dance and song across generations. These evolving practices allow traditional knowledge to continue to inform culture, art – and policy – today.
Ancestral knowledge: past, present and future
Moving forward, Margaret wants to focus on building structures to enable young people to reconnect in meaningful ways with traditional culture and carry this legacy on into the future. Margaret has facilitated this in her own family, many of whom are involved in the Dancers of Damelahamid. Margaret’s oldest daughter Rebecca Baker-Grenier recently presented her Indigenous-inspired designs at New York Fashion Week, and her youngest daughter composes music based on archival resources to identify ancestral songs, and explore what it is that makes them so distinct and meaningful.
The Dancers of Damelahamid retain the integrity of their artistic legacy while demonstrating through lived experience that Indigenous art is a powerful, non-static, innovative and knowledge-bearing practice that has important insights to offer us as we face the world’s biggest global challenges.
Reflecting on climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the gentle path of reconnection that is taking place in the aftermath, Margaret highlighted how global efforts to curb the pandemic and rally together provide a powerful example of the rapid change that can occur when we’re listening to eachother and working together toward a common goal.
For more information about The Dancers of Damelahamid, visit: https://damelahamid.ca/
The Dancers of Damelahamid primarily create, present, and produce Indigenous dance on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), and the Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
The World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education 2022, and the High Commission of Canada in Australia’s corresponding event, took place in Tardanya (Adelaide), on the land of the Kaurna People. Canada Down Under acknowledges the Kaurna People, the diverse Indigenous people throughout Australia, Canada and across the globe, and pays respect to ancestors past, present and emerging.