Our Dance Stories

By William Wasden Jr.

Our dance myths and stories are the history of our ceremonies. Do not, however, confuse “myth” with “untrue.” Myths cannot be understood by dates or literal proof. All ancient myths are true. Each one began somewhere in the distant time. Myths, in their own special way, pass down truths about where we came from, where we fit in the world and how we should conduct our lives.
Every human culture has its myths, but we, unlike some others around the world, have not forgotten ours.

In Kwakwaka’wakw culture, every family has histories that determine what dances we can do, the way we present them, the type of songs we sing and who is able to perform these rites. These histories connect us to when these ceremonies began, so we must tell the history each time our dancers perform. Our stories, song and dances are heirlooms as precious to use as the gold and silver European-Canadians have always handed down from one generation to the next. That is why we tell the histories. First, the story-tellers hand them down to the children. Second, the histories publicly establish each family’s right to own the story, song or dance.

Not just anyone can tell a history, sing a song or dance a dance. We must respect the families to which they belong. For that reason, I will do the same here. Before I go further, I will first tell you about the Kwakwaka’wakw people, my community, myself and our history. In the way that we do things, that telling will establish my right to share information about our culture.

My tribe is the ‘Namgis, a branch of the Kwak’wala speaking people who live in Alert Bay and the Nimpkish Valley, British Columbia. My elders relocated to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island to work in a Euro-Canadian fish saltery. The ‘Namgis rank as the third nation amongst the Kwakwaka’wakw tribes. ‘Namgis refers to a sea monster who saved one of my tribe’s ancestors from the great flood. The sea monster’s name is ‘Namxiyalegiyu, from which comes our name.