Why We Dance

by Stan Louttit

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Eeyou peoples lived a very different lifestyle from that of their modern descendents. Early Eeyou peoples spent almost nine months inland away from the coastal trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company hunting, trapping and fishing on family hunting territories. Sometimes one, two or three families lived together in the bush and used the same territory for trapping over the course of a winter. Oftentimes, these families did not see any other people until their long return journey in the spring, travelling by canoe down the river to the coastal HBC posts. The return journey for the summer months of July to August were much anticipated by all families, as the summer spent at the HBC posts meant a return to a happy gathering place of Eeyou families. It was a time of reunion and reconnection with extended family and friends. It was also a time of feasting, celebrations, weddings, births, and sharing stories of the year’s activities inland. The summer months were a time to relax, share food at feasts and to sing, drum and dance for the gifts the land offered and of the happiness of being alive to see one another again in the summer.

Generally, drumming, singing and dancing occurred after a feast. Some Elders believe that no feast can end until people have sung, drummed and danced (Blacksmith in Richardson 1991: 158-159, 238, 286). On the other hand, in some Eeyou hunting families, Elders believed no feast could begin until a song and drumming were performed beforehand(Blackned in Preston 2002: 53).

Feasts and celebrations usually meant a special time of sharing that took place because of a wedding, a particularly good fish harvest, or the killing of a bear. After the bear, caribou or moose was cleaned and cooked, the families would gather in the teepee of the hunter’s family. Before the feast began, thanks was given to “Manitou” and to the spirits of the moose, bear or whitefish by offering a piece of its flesh to the fire. After the feast was over, drumming, singing, and dancing took place to express gratefulness, happiness, respect and the love of the animal.

This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance