Calling Home

October and November 2005

First Nation Dancer

First Nation Dancer

Between 28 October and 2 November 2005 a special location was set up near Kemmelberg (Mont Kemmel) just inside the Belgian Border.

It was around this huge hill that a great battle took place in the Spring of 1918 as Germany launched her last ditch attempt to win the war.

Mont Kemmel 1918 Mont Kemmel 1918

For most of the nations that sent men overseas the period of mourning and acceptance for those who did not return has long passed, but not so for the Aboriginal people of Canada.

The spirits of those Aboriginal warriors who fell in battle have never been accorded the spiritual ceremonies necessary to ensure their safe return to their homelands and nations.

Three groups were involved: The First Nations, The Métis and the Inuit.

I think I have it right when I say that the First Nations are what the first Europeans would have called Indian tribes (believing of course that they had reached the Indian subcontinent).

The Prairie provinces of Canada are the homeland to the Métis who have both First Nation and European ancestry, the word Métis is French for half-caste. One of the Canadian Army's greatest snipers who did excellent service during the taking of Vimy Ridge was in fact a Métis from Saskatchewan.

Henry Norwest MM: Hill 119 Henry Norwest MM: Hill 119

The third group are the people of the frozen north: The Inuit.

 

Music, Dance and Culture

The sacred nature of the spiritual ceremonies precluded their being open to the public, but as an exercise in sharing some of their cultural beliefs a number of organisations with the aid of Veterans' Affairs Canada came to Europe to dance and sing.

Such festivities often occur following religious events and they help remind the people of the old ways and helps forge them anew.

Police Officers from the RCMP/GRC

Police Officers from the RCMP/GRC

The image of warrior braves, proud and held in high esteem by their village folk, is not a misconception and the warrior's self sacrifice has always been considered worthy of honour.

A large gathering of onlookers

A large gathering of onlookers

Central to their celebrations is the drum. It is considered a sacred thing representing the heartbeat of the nation. The pulsing beat of many of the accompaniments testified to this belief.

 

A varied spectacle

On a rather grey and miserable morning a crowd of many hundreds gathered in Astrid Park in Ieper to watch a display of dancing and singing by a number of artists.

My abilities in Flemish precluded my following a great deal of the introductions made by our gracious hostess, but thankfully small booklets arrived to explain things.

The four ladies of the Wekatesk Singers opened the event with a calling home song in their own language: Mi'kmaw.

This was very much the sound that probably most of us expected to hear but that was certainly not the case with the Duck Bay Métis Dancers who followed.

Métis Dancers

Métis Dancers

Accompanied by Métis fiddler, Sierra Noble, they treated us to a stage thumping Square dance. I have to admit to being surprised to find that the fiddle plays such an important part in the Métis culture. It tells the story whilst the beat is provided either by spoons or the taps on the dancers' feet.

I also laughed when for the next group our hostess asked the Inuit gentleman his name. I couldn't have pronounced it either. He his wife and daughter then sang and danced an Inuit drum dance.

Keeping with the Inuit traditions two young ladies came on and demonstrated Inuit Throat Singing.

I was immediately reminded of two lambeg drummers back home trying to keep time and rhythm with each other. For that is what is at stake here. Through using their voices and breathing techniques each attempts to outlast the other in an array of voiced and unvoiced sounds.

It sounded very weird but after they had been at it for a few minutes you could see that a lot of skill was involved as well as lung power.

Our short introduction into these various cultures was brought to a close by First Nation dancers.

The costumes were spectacular and the beat of the drummers was once again pounding the stage. The ladies came on to a traditional dance leading into a jingle dance where the dancer is adorned in numerous metal cones.

Then the men danced a Grass Dance which sounds as if it could be interpreted in two ways. Either flattening out the grass for a ceremony, or showing off how you have just beaten your enemy into it.

The final two dancers who demonstrated a men's traditional dance wore the most incredible costumes and painted faces.

The public join in for a round dance

The public join in for a round dance


This has been an important week for the Aboriginal people of Canada and whilst it has been interesting and fun to watch and listen, the background to the events is a solemn one and has fallen well as it has, just before Armistice Day when once again we will stop for a moment and remember the fallen.

This year, the spirits of Canada's Aboriginal warriors will be back home amongst their people.

Armistice Commemoration 2005 Armistice Commemoration 2005
 

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Wekatesk Singers Not sure what to make of this Sierra Noble on fiddle Duck Bay Métis Dancers Going full tilt Traditional Dancers
Click on the thumbnails for a larger picture Making sure the speakers don't leave the stage Inuit drum dance Traditional First Nation Dancer Grass Dance Jingle Dancer Closing Dances Closing Dances Saskatchewan First Nation Dancers