Johnstone Strait and Alert Bay

May 16, 2019 - National Geographic Quest

Guests woke to cloud-shrouded and snow-capped mountain peaks as close eyes were kept for spotting wildlife along Johnstone Strait. A group of Dall’s porpoises didn’t leave them scanning for long! The porpoises playfully swam right along the bow, which allowed ample time for guests to temper their photography skills by capturing these incredibly swift specimens in action.

The clouds and fog followed us into Alert Bay, and as our guide led us toward the Namgis Burial Grounds, a light drizzle began. This change in weather did nothing to dampen Trevor’s enthusiasm for his culture, nor his pride in sharing it with us. The totem poles, which marked the gravesites of chiefs and family leaders stood proudly as Kwakwabalus shared their stories.

A stroll along a main street which meanders along the boat-lined shore took us to the U’mista Cultural Centre, where we were greeted with warm smiles, fresh sockeye salmon, bannock, and a variety of local jams. We were privileged and intrigued to watch prerecorded footage to learn about the customs and traditions of the Potlatch. In that video, it was heartwarming seeing a young Kwakwaka’wakw boy steal the show as he danced to his traditional music with pride. Our tour guide Wonita then led us into the potlatch room as the smell of red cedar surrounded us. The collection of brightly coloured masks, which were repatriated after their being taken by the Canadian government, are symbols of pride and play a vital role in the potlatch. As we soon came to understand, the potlatch was given to the Kwakwaka’wakw by their creator to express joy. We left U’mista with filled hearts.

The wide-mouthed opening of the Big House welcomed us at the top of the hill into a large room where potlatches took place today in Alert Bay. Potlatches are held for feasts, memorials, celebrations, and reconnecting with old friends. Not to be confused with the “potluck”, the guests of a Potlatch receive food and gifts from their hosts for two straight days. In the Kwakwaka’wakw, it is the rich and powerful who give the most away.

Finally, we had the unique privilege of welcoming Chief Kaudie aboard the ship. He granted us welcome, friends to Alert Bay, and we quickly realized that we had already met this man – as the once-young boy who stole the show dancing in the video seen at U’mista! He once again captivated his audience by sharing his love for his culture, the impacts and realities of colonization, and his hope for the future.

Yes, Chief Kaudie, you and the Kwakwaka’wakw people are still here and for that, we are grateful. Gilakas’la

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Peter Cameron

Peter Cameron

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