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Coastal Dance Festival returns to New West: honouring Indigenous stories, song and dance

Spotlight on: Dancers of Damelahamid present the 17th annual Coast Dance Festival
Coastal Dance Festival returns to Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

What’s happening?

Dancers of Damelahamid present the 17th annual Coastal Dance Festival from March 1 to 3 at Anvil Centre in New Westminster. The festival honours Indigenous stories, song and dance from across Canada and around the world.

What are the Dancers of Damelahamid?

Dancers of Damelahamid is an Indigenous dance company from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia.

“The company is founded upon over five decades of extensive work of song restoration,” said a news release. “It is the current directive of the Dancers of Damelahamid to redefine their contemporary practice and to honour this history in order that the dances may continue to be tangible and accessible for the next generation.”

The company has produced the Coastal Dance Festival annually since 2008, presenting Indigenous dance artists from the B.C. coast, with guest national and international artists. The festival’s predecessor, Haw Yaw Hawni Naw, was produced in Prince Rupert, B.C. from 1966 to 1986.

Tell me more about the Coastal Dance Festival:

This year’s festival will feature an exclusive excerpt from Dancers of Damelahamid’s upcoming full-length work, Raven Mother, created in honour of the late Elder Margaret Harris, co-founder of Dancers of Damelahamid. The culmination of generations of artistic and cultural work, Raven Mother is the group’s most ambitious production to date.

“My mother, Elder Harris, dedicated her life to the revitalization and teaching of Indigenous cultural practices, including song, dance, stories, and regalia- making,” Margaret Grenier, the festival’s executive and artistic director, said in a news release. “This new work speaks to her indelible legacy and the integral role of women in holding cultural knowledge. Through her profound leadership, a cultural resurgence was awakened, marking the shift between generations that has sparked a new role for our daughters as the force to hold their grandmother’s vision.”

According to Dancers of Damelahamid, the excerpt will showcase a striking and intricate new raven transformation mask to represent the work’s generational collaboration, with the larger raven opening up to reveal several smaller interconnected human faces inside – each mask representing a generation of daughters inspired by their matriarch, Elder Harris.

Also featured is a raven cloak made of feathers, designed by Dancers of Damelahamid performer and regalia designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier. A traditional Gitxsan piece of regalia, this type of cloak has not been danced for many generations.

What else will I see at the show?

At the 17th annual Coastal Dance Festival, Dancers of Damelahamid will be joined by a number of the festival’s signature artists and performance groups.

Returning favourites include:

  • a family group of grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, Chesha7 iy lha mens (Skwxwu7mesh, Stó:lō, Tsimsian);
  • dance group Chinook Song Catchers (Skwxwu7mesh, Nisga’a) 
  • the award-winning Inland Tlingit Dakhká Khwáan Dancers 
  • mask-dancing groups Git Hayetsk (Nisga’a, Tsimshian) and Git Hoan (Tsimshian)
  • dancer and educator Laura Grizzlypaws (St’át’imc)
  • Squamish-based Spakwus Slolem (Skwxwu7mesh), who share their canoe and cedar longhouse culture
  • a family group from many First Nations Xwelmexw Shxwexwo:s (Stó:lō, Musqueam, Sts:ailes, Snuneymuxw, Nuu-chah-nulth, Skwxwu7mesh); and 
  • Yisya̱’winux̱w (Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw), a group representing many of the 16 tribes of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw people on Northern Vancouver Island

Some special guests are also returning for their second Coast Dance Festival appearances:

  • Saskatchewan’s award-winning Métis fiddler Adam Daigneault, who made his festival debut in 2022
  • Māori artist Karena Koria, who first performed at the festival as a member of the Turanga Ararau Kapa Haka group from Gisborne, New Zealand, as part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad. (In 2024, Karena will perform as one half of the Turongo Collective, with his partner and wife, Milly Grant-Koria.)

According to Dancers of Damelahamid, this year’s programming represents the spirit of Elder Harris’ legacy – the support and celebration of the ongoing artistic practice of the songs, dances, and stories from Indigenous communities across British Columbia, Canada, and the world.

“Cultivating a caring community has always been at the core of the Coastal Dance Festival’s values, and is more important than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic, from which the forced disruption of cultural practices is still impacting communities today,” Grenier said.

“Artistic practices shape the cultural identity and well-being of our community members, and we wanted to emphasize a regional focus in 2024 to support the many artists who are integral members of our festival’s dance family.”

More details, please:

  • The 2024 Coastal Dance Festival includes a by-donation matinee performance for family audiences on Friday, March 1 at 11 a.m. (Includes: Chesha7 iy lha mens; Turongo Collective; and Dancers of Damelahamid.)
  • A signature evening performance (a ticketed gala event) is  taking place  on Friday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. (Includes: Welcome to territory; Spakwus Slolem; Dancers of Damelahamid; Turongo Collective; and Dakhká Khwáan with DJ Dash.)
  • A signature evening performance (a ticketed gala event) is on Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. (Includes: Welcome to territory; Adam Daigneault; Dancers of Damelahamid; Yisya̱’winux̱w; and Git Hoan.)
  • By-donation festival stage performances taking place on Saturday, March 2 feature a variety of performers: Chinook Song Catchers; Dakhká Khwáan; Laura Grizzlypaws; Dancers of Damelahamid; Turongo Collective; and Git Hoan.
  • By-donation festival stage performances taking place on Sunday, Marhychh 3 feature:  Xwelmexw Shxwexwo:s; Dakhká Khwáan; Yisya̱’winux̱w; Dancers of Damelahamid; Adam Daigneault; and Git Hayetsk.

Tickets from $25. For more information, visit