Today, we went to Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. In place only until September 2010, this aboriginal-themed attraction is set around the Stanley Park Locomotive and the Children's Petting Zoo.
After walking along the quiet path that took us around the perimeter of the miniature train tracks - which amounted to a peaceful stroll under the leaves, looking at native symbols and carvings that had been placed among the trees - my wife and I settled down and sat in front of a small pine stage that had been built over top of a little pond, and looked freshly-cut.
Two native women sitting to my right were chatting away, getting to know each other. The one right next to me said that she was from Alert Bay and her daughter would be dancing in the group that would be on next. Soon enough, the dancing troupe was introduced by the our host, who was a Hereditary Chief of the First Nations up in Alert Bay, BC. The mother next to me was very proud of her daughter, saying how she danced all the time with a few different groups, and that she's always traveling with one group of the other.
The other woman asked where Alert Bay was, and what it was like. The mother described to her seat-mate how she'd spent a long time in the residential school up in Alert Bay, starting as a child in 1964. She said her Dad had been in the residential school too, and that it was school in the Military style. She said that you weren't supposed to be Native back in those days. School tended to end at about Grade 8, and those who continued on with their education "wouldn't be considered Indians anymore - they'd be like white".
The Hereditary Chief up on the stage said that between 1885 and the 1990s, the Federal Government of Canada mandated the Indian Act - the residential school system - and that this legislation had caused so much pain and suffering for Aboriginals. (I read later that the last residential schools, located in Saskatchewan, was closed in 1996.) The Chief said that the Government of Canada didn't realize the damage they were doing - the pain they were causing - and he went on to say how fortunate he felt to be able to demonstrate traditional dances and songs which had been passed down to him from his father to people of all races, who came from all over the place. He said he was proud to promote his culture. He said that just a few days earlier, we had celebrated Canada Day, and as he looked out at all the different colours of faces in the crowd, we should each be proud of our own unique culture. He said that when he traveled with his troupe, he was always proud to say he was First Nations and a Canadian.
After the performance was over, we clapped and said goodbye in the word that the Chief had taught us. As we walked off, he was teaching a young boy how to use a native drum. I heard his laughter halfway out to the parking lot.