National Geographic Sea Lion
cruising north in Johnstone Strait, under a heavy marine layer of clouds. Small openings of sunlight peeked through the clouds, lighting the mountain tops of Vancouver Island. Just after breakfast our ship made a sharp right turn into Black Fish Sound, where we spent the morning exploring in and around many inlets and small islands. We found two humpback whales, many sea birds, and a large haul out of Steller sea lions. As the sun rose in the sky, what struck many of us was the unending beautiful scenery. All one had to do was turn in a different direction to find another gorgeous set of mountains, forests, and rocky shores tipping into the sea.
From our morning stop, our vessel made her way north to Cormorant Island to spend the remainder of the day in Alert Bay. Our first visit to an indigenous village would include a stop at the U’mista Cultural Center and a in depth introduction to the world of the Kwakwakaka’wakw people of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. Of primary importance here is the P’asa or Potlatch. As Barb Cranmer, a well-known film maker from Alert Bay has said, “Our ceremonial regalia and masks connect us to our ancestral roots and make us a distinct people.”
To understand these words with even more depth, we walked a short distance to the traditional Big House, or the Gukwkzi of Alert Bay. There we were both guest and witness to a cultural sharing experience with the T’sasala Cultural Group. Seeing elders, those younger, and the children of this group of Kwakwakaka’wakw people was inspiring to all. At the end of the exhibition dances, we were all invited out onto the packed dirt floor for a chance to share in the joy of dancing around a fire and being a part of a living culture.