Youth dancers from Semiahmoo First Nation shared traditional dances during an event marking National Indigenous Peoples Day Tuesday morning at Chief Bernard Robert Charles Memorial Plaza in White Rock.
Semiahmoo First Nation members and others gathered on the unceded and traditional territories of the SFN and the broader territory of the Coast Salish Peoples to mark the occasion, which was kicked off by Chief Harley Chappell and his eldest son playing a drum-beat and singing a traditional song for over 100 attendants.
“We will build stronger together, we will be more important together and more importantly I think, we will recognize two nations that are coming together,” said Mayor of White Rock Darryl Walker.
Although dance and song were a big part of the event, Chappell noted the significant meaning behind each song and dance shared.
“We’re not here to perform, we don’t perform. We’re here to share some of who we are as Semiahmoo people with our neighbours and our guests and celebrate this Indigenous Peoples Day,” he explained.
One dance was to the Eagle Song, to represent how important the eagle is to the community because it flies the highest of all birds.
“It brought our prayers to the creator, the one who gave us life,” Chappell said.
Another song shared by Chappell and his son was the Flood Song, which tells a part of the history of the Indigenous community.
According to Chappell, one member of the community once, long ago, had a vision that a flood was coming to the territory, so they built massive canoes and loaded up all the children in the boats. Eventually, the flood came and one canoe landed in the now-Birch Bay area.
The flood left community members to scatter around to different areas, until one member brought everyone back together years later.
“We need to remember who we are and where we came from… we are survivors of the flood,” Chappell recalled her saying.
They all put ‘mish’ at the ends of all of their names, creating the communities now called Samish, Sammamish, Swinomish, Skokomish and more, right across the border in Washington.
Semiahmoo War Song was another one shared by the Chappell father-and-son pair.
“I sing it in the essence that I want to build our young people with that tenacity, with that strength.”
National Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration for how far the communities have come, while recognizing how far society still has to go, Chappell said.
“We bring a little bit of medicine here today… and understanding the relationship we have with the calls to action and reconciliation (that) are unfolding before us and that we have the opportunity to celebrate today,” said Joanne Charles, SFN councillor.
Chappell concluded by saying that reconciliation is a process, one that will likely span longer than his own life. This is why having youth pick up and continue the journey one day is what matters most, he added.