It was a symbolic ending to this year’s Hobiyee celebrations as eagles dove to feast on the oolichan that had finally arrived in the Nass Valley, marking the start of the harvest season.
From Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, the village of Ging̱olx hosted the Nisga’a New Year and as part of “golden hospitality,” fed more than 1,000 people that came from afar for the festivities.
“People are away from their own homes and we make sure they’re being fed for energy,” says Rose Oscar, matriarch in Ging̱olx and head cook. “It’s made with a lot of patience, a lot of care and loving thought.”
As travel can be far between the four Nisga’a villages, the locals take pride inviting visitors in and offering their food. Oscar says that there is an emphasis on having plenty available to ensure no one is left hungry, especially as the days are filled with lots of dancing and drumming.
“You can have anything you want from the sea or from the surrounding, you don’t see that often anywhere else,” says Oscar. “Here, there is an abundance… and my favourite part is that whenever it happens here, I’m in the kitchen [and when I step] out to watch the children make their moves, it’s beautiful and I love that.”
Hobiyee is a celebration for the Nisga’a people coinciding with the waxing of the crescent moon in February. The name stems from the Nisga’a word Hoobixis-hee, which refers to the bowl end of a wooden spoon.
The moon, which can be seen hung above the hall over the ceremonies, is passed on annually to the next host village who is then also given the responsibility to feed everybody.
This year in Ging̱olx, the matriarchs came together with many helping hands in the kitchen to put on a multi-day feast. On Friday, Feb. 22 fresh clams and crabs were served as the main dish and to close off the festival on Saturday, Feb. 23, it was Nisga’a stew.
Oolichan would also be traditionally served, but since the fish didn’t arrive until the final day — there wasn’t enough time to include them on the menu.
“We [had] beef stew, sometimes we use moose, and vegetables,” says Lavinia Clayton, also a matriarch in Ging̱olx and head cook. “The whole community usually gets together to prep, we’ve been prepping since Wednesday.”
She says that this year, they cooked approximately 180 gallons of stew for the festivities and that it took one cow to provide all the meat for the dish. She adds that years ago, food was made in one old black iron cast pot on top of a fire and that was enough to feed everybody. For the band elders, they’re often fed separate dishes that are specially prepared for them.
Throughout the day, there was also plenty of fruit, snacks and beverages available for anyone that needed to keep their energy going.
To celebrate the harvest moon, dancers performed the stories of their ancestors and of life on their land to the beating of the drums, the shaking of handmade hoof rattlers and the reverberating sound of the conch. Their clothing was worn in tribute to their heritage that grasped the deep-coloured elements of nature and embodied the animals of the Nass — with some showcasing bear and wolf skins, eagle feathers and necklaces made of claws.
Alongside the cultural dances from Ging̱olx, Gitlax̱t’aamiks, Gitwinksihlkw and Lax̱g̱alts’ap, the Gitmaxmak’ay dancers from Prince Rupert and Port Edward and the Gitlaxdax Nisga’a dancers from Terrace made an appearance. There was also a performance by the Gitleeksa’aks-Metlakatla from Alaska.
As the matriarchs of the village, both Oscar and Clayton say that seeing the crowd enjoy their homemade food brings them a lot of joy and that it makes them feel that they’ve fulfilled their roles.
“You know that they love it, you can tell that we did good and that they like the food,” Clayton says. “We cook with all of our love — you can’t beat that.”