Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre

By Michael MacDonald

I left Vancouver and boarded a ferry that travelled over to Vancouver Island, to a city called Nanaimo. From there I travelled north up the eastern coast of the island to a beautiful place called Campbell River, the home of the Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre. When I first started Native Dance I googled Native Dance just to see what I’d get; Gildas Box of Treasures was listed on the first page. I read what it said about the dance shows that they put on every summer and I had to know more. Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre is a community-run dance theatre company that teaches the young people in the community how to perform Potlatch dances for tourists. The dances have been put on in a small theatre that is attached to an art gallery that showcases artists from the community.

When I got there I went into the gallery and met with Lorraine Henderson, who looks after the gallery. She gave me a tour of the theatre and told me about the community.

The Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre is located in Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Wei-Wai-Kum First Nations Cultural Society operates the theatre from June to September each year. A part of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, the Wei-Wai-Kum First Nations is a member of the Laichwiltach people.

Gildas is a type of bent cedar box that is used to hold special family cultural treasures. The theatre is called Gildas Box because it houses Dan Henderson’s (Lorraine’s husband) family treasures: their Potlatch ritual, regalia, masks, dances and songs.

The theatre performs short sections from the Potlatch tradition for tourists. It takes about 45 minutes for the songs and dances while Dan narrates the stories and gives explanations. The Potlatch is a ceremony used to unite families in marriage, name children, correct wrongs, pass on rights, responsibilities and privileges to the next generation, and share wealth. It is the main ceremony for the Laichwiltach people and is very important. The Gildas Theatre only shows two very short sections of the Potlatch. The full Potlatch cannot be shared with tourists because it is a sacred ceremony that is only shared with members of the community that are invited. The parts that they show introduce the tourists to the Wei-Wai-Kum people who live there.

Lorraine talked about how important it is for her community to welcome visitors with dance. She’s been active dancing for many years and is very proud of the young people in her community who carry on the dance tradition that she took part in when she was a child. The youth who learn the dances learn about themselves and their ancestors and their relationship to the land that they live on.

“I’ve been doing dances for people since the ’60s. We have been educating non-Native people about our culture for a long time. This group at the Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre is made up of our children who learn dances that they will perform for the rest of their lives. The stories will go with them and be passed on to their children in the same way they were taught here. It is important for us to share out stories with lots of people. Last year the group was the hit of the British Columbia tourism display at a conference in Miami, Florida. More people come to see the theatre every year because of performances like these. It’s good for our community because people come to see us and learn about who we are. Our art is beautiful, our artists are very talented, and we like to share it. The more we share our art the more people want to know who makes the art. We get to know more about each other this way”.

Glidas Theatre Website
House of Treasures Website

1370 Island Highway
Campbell River, B.C
(250) 286.1440

©2019 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
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