Property, Dancing, Drumming and Regalia

(August 15, 2016)

On my mind are the TRC recommendations on Indigenous Laws, Art and Culture (check out #50, and #83-#85)

songhees wellness centre
Songhees Wellness Centre – photo by Rebecca

circle programI was reflecting on these recommendations this summer, while at the Songhees Wellness Centre. attending the 2016 CIRCLE Gathering  (CIRCLE is the Centre for Indigenous Research and Community-Led Engagement at UVic).

Culture was placed front and centre at the workshop.  We had the opportunity to tour the centre, to talk about the physical design of the space, the incorporation of art, and bilingual sinage in English and Lekwungun supporting programs of language revitalization.  We also had the opportunity to have the IMG_20160607_173432Songhees Dance Group come and share with us a number of songs and dances. It was such a pleasure to watch the group, which included men and women, and dancers of all ages (adult, youth and children).

The second day of the gathering was explicitly focused on Culture.

As part of the day, members from the group returned, to talk with us about the group, its history, dancing, drumming, and regalia.  They also invited us to ask them about any questions we had.

IMG_20160608_141056

What was interesting was both the generosity of the Songhees dancers in opening up the space for questions, and also the difficulty of us as participants beginning to know which questions to ask.

The conversations were super helpful me, and to other participants, as we talked together about the challenges and fears people have around sharing culture.  What is the difference between cultural sharing, for example, or expecting to have cultured ‘staged’ for you? (for a great post on this question, see Jess Housty’s blogpost “I Am Not The Indian You Had in Mind”, or Georgia Lloyd-Smith’s blogpost on “Respectfully Working in Indigenous Communities”

As we focused in on the regalia that had been worn by the dancers, I could also begin to see that we as participants were working to articulate differences between questions that are about ‘law’ or about ‘culture’, and questions that dealt with questions of history, authenticity, legitimacy and change.  Certainly, these questions (and answers) helped me to see both ‘more’, and ‘less’ in the regalia.  That is, I could see it was important to avoid romanticizing particular choices in design, but also to see the range of differences in the ways that different people made choices in ways that made the regalia both meaningful, and connected to history, and ‘theirs’.

One of the questions was of course about photographing.  In response to a question as to whether or not it was possible to take photos of the regalia, we were told, “well, you should ask the person whose regalia it is”.  This answer really hit me.  It was odd (being struck by the answer) because  that answer was in some ways so obvious.  Yes.   Ask the person whose regalia it is.  In this case, the IMG_20160608_141106regalia belongs to Gary Sam, and Gary said yes!

Gary, it turns out, is really something of an excellent beader (and talked to us about learning from his granny).  Indeed, not everyone in the group did all the work on their own regalia, and several of the people noted that Gary had helped out with their own (thus some awesome jokes about a possible new twitter hashtag, #GaryMadeIt!)

There is both more and less to be said, and there is lots more to learn, but it was clear to me that stepping into this space of drumming, dance and regalia can open paths for the necessary rethinking of property, ceremony, art and law that is ahead of us!

Author: Rebecca Johnson

I teach Law at the University of Victoria.

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