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Nisga’a Nation rings in lunar new year

More than 1,500 people gather to celebrate Hobiyee

From Feb. 23 to Feb. 24, the Village of Laxgalts’ap (Greenville) echoed with rhythmic drum beats and feathery singsong from over 1,500 people who gathered from across the province to celebrate the Nisga’a New Year.

Hobiyee (pronounced ho-byee-yeah) coincides with the waxing of the crescent moon in February and originated in the Nass Valley. The name stems from the Nisga’a word Hoobixis-hee, which refers to the bowl end of a wooden spoon.

“It gives our younger generations an opportunity to teach them more about their language and culture,” said Matthew Bright, Laxgalts’ap councillor and master of ceremonies for the event.

The list of performing dance groups representing Terrace at the two-day event included the Suwilaawks Community School and Gitlaxdax Nisga’a dancers.

Other groups including Git Hayetsk from Vancouver, Gitmaxmak’ay dancers from Prince Rupert and Port Edward, and the Gitwinksihlkw Four Crest Dancers also performed and shared stories passed down through generations.

During the opening blessing on Feb. 23, members of the Nisga’a Museum commemorated the return of seven ceremonial spoons from the Canadian Museum of History that had been taken from the territory over one-hundred years ago.

A joint-performance from four elementary schools in the area followed to kick off the weekend’s events, which Bright said was the most memorable part of the two-day celebration for him.

“Something that our elders always said is whatever we learn, we have to pass on to our children,” Bright said. “I was full of pride seeing the children singing the songs in the language of our ancestors.”

The children danced in a wide circle around the auditorium perimeter and sang ‘Hobiyee!’, stretching out their arms towards the illuminated crescent moon hanging from the ceiling. Their shouts are prayers for a moon that would signify a bountiful harvest season.

If the crescent moon is in the shape of a Hoobix with the ends pointing upward during this lunar period, it means the Nisga’a Nation can look forward to plenty of berries and fish. A meagre harvest will be expected if the moon is pointed downwards and symbolically spills its contents.

“They danced with the moon and lifted it up for us,” Bright said. “What better way to honour our ancestors than with our children?”

Hobiyee also celebrates the return of the oolichan fish to the area, a small ocean smelt found along the Pacific coast of North America. Many families in the Nisga’a territory would eat these little fish prior to European contact, knowing their return meant the subsequent recurrence of salmon and seal populations to the area.

A tray of the fried smelt sat on one of the tables in the hall connected to the main auditorium, next to cooked pieces of seal meat, boiled potatoes, Nisga’a stew, crab legs and rolls of bread. The lunch and dinner provided were free for anyone at the event who was hungry, provided elders and those living with disabilities were satiated first.

“[Hobiyee] is something we all look forward to, especially when we see relatives come from near and far,” Bright said of the free event. A live-video streaming of the event on Facebook had people from the United States and as far away as Norway tuned in to watch.

MLA Ellis Ross’ granddaughter Elise Moore, 5, danced at the celebration in Laxgalts’ap and goes with her grandmother’s family every year.

Councillor Sean Bujtas drove from Terrace to Greenville with his family for the second day of Hobiyee. Having gone three times before, Bujtas said the event is a special one and looks forward to going again next year.

“It’s important to celebrate with your neighbours and it’s a fun event to be in,” Bujtas said. “The more people, the better.”

Next year’s Hobiyee will be hosted in Gingolx, one of the four Nisga’a communities in northwest B.C., located 170 kilometres northwest of Terrace.

Gitlaxt’aamiks ceremonial dancers fill the Laxgalts’ap community centre floor as they celebrate Hobiyee, the Nisga’a New Year, on Feb. 24, 2018. (Photo Brittany Gervais)
Brittany Gervais photo Git Hayetsk from Vancouver performs their peace song which demonstrates that the dance group will tread lightly while visiting traditional Nisga’a territory on Feb. 24 in Laxgalts’ap (Greenville).
Git Hayetsk from Vancouver performs a ceremony song composed by Mike Dangeli’s late grandparents. This dance is one of the first songs taught to children as a reminder to take care of the ceremonial beings and respect their regalia. (Photo Brittany Gervais)