Today started early with guests on the bow searching for wildlife in Johnstone Straight and Blackfish Sound. The prediction for a week of rain still had not come to fruition and the guests of National Geographic Sea Bird started day two of this adventure with calm seas and somewhat blue skies. This calm weather gave us really great views of various including several bald eagles, pigeon guillemots, numerous gulls, and two harlequin ducks. In addition to numerous species of birds, we had the good fortune to observe a haul out of Steller sea lions and a large raft of sea otters. So, we’re off to a great start!
Following this full morning of wildlife viewing, enriching conversation, and ample opportunities to practice the photography skills we’ve been discussing, our ship came alongside in Alert Bay. The anticipation for an afternoon of rich cultural experience was palpable. We started by briefly visiting the cemetery just south of the ship. Several totems are still standing in this cemetery, and they are exquisitely painted. After we spent a bit of time enjoying the landscape and photographing the totems, we made our way by foot or by shuttle to the Umista cultural center.
Here we learned much more about the Kwakwaka’ kwak regalia, the history of the culture and some of the challenges the culture faced from the Canadian Government. We explored the museum’s collection of regalia that had been returned after being confiscated in the 1921. The collection was returned to the tribe under the condition of establishing a museum to house the regalia. This collection represents a history and storyline that is almost impossible to find elsewhere. Having the wisdom and stories of a local village member was a true asset.
A short walk or shuttle from the cultural center found us at the long house. Here, the Kwakwaka’ kwak shared more about their culture, the story of the potlatch, and the significance of the dances we observed. The fire in the longhouse poured smoke into the air through which beams of light shined through. This created great opportunities for photography, as did the dancing and the musicians on the wood log drum.
Seeing the children dancing their dance, hearing about how they are learning their culture and presenting for their audience was truly endearing and very inspiring. It’s so nice to see the elders of the community supporting the children to carry on the traditions with pride.
The elder facilitating the day ended the ceremony by sharing her thoughts. We were the first Lindblad/National Geographic group to visit the long house since COVID. She told us: “We really appreciate this connection. When you leave here, your hearts are a little fuller and you realize we are not artifacts in a museum. We are living, breathing people.” A very powerful way to end a very powerful ceremony.
In typical Lindblad style, we wrapped up a wonderful day with shared time, great conversations, and scrumptious food.
Photo caption: A young Kwakwaka’ kwak member shares his passion through potlatch ceremonial dances. Photo by David Jaffe