The audience of about 70 people came to watch dancing and singing, but the Yakama Nation Swan Dancers visited Vancouver for more than performance.
Seven members of the group presented a prayer and four dances Saturday afternoon at Fort Vancouver Visitor Center during Native Arts Day, which featured Native artwork, jewelry and music. The themes of the dances were unity, family, grief, resilience, connectedness to the land and the beauty of life.
Marylee Jones, or Smunitee, which is her Native name, said the dancers visited Vancouver because you’re obligated to share your culture when asked.
“With every presentation we have, it’s like a tree,” Jones said. “During that time, all the seedlings fall out. Those seedlings plant other life wherever we go. Each presentation we do, we get another opportunity to spread all this information.”
Jones spoke of how the desire to always have and take more is laced throughout America’s history. She said she didn’t want to anger people by sharing her message but wants people to focus on empowering each other instead of always competing. And she wants people to spend more time outdoors and try to understand nature.
“We are all connected to each other. We just fight so much to be disconnected,” Jones said.
Jones’ family is part of the dancers, too. An aunt, who goes by her native name Tanie-Sch-Pum, said it can hurt to interact with spaces and people who are tied to the dismantling of Native American history and culture, but she added there are many genuine people, who want to learn more and do better.
“People come to me and they tell me, ‘I’m really sorry for what my ancestors did to you,’” Tanie-Sch-Pum said. “Those are real genuine people, when they can share their tears with me.”
She said that it’s important to educate others, because they might be a part of the key to preserving land or history.
“There’s got to be educated people out there, and not just Native, but also non-Native,” Tanie-Sch-Pum said. “No matter what color you are, they may have the knowledge of how to preserve some of our historical sites. Not so much to say ‘it’s mine,’ but for people to see that there was a livelihood there, that there was people there, that there was good things that happened there.”
Mary Rose, executive director with Friends of Fort Vancouver, said that was her mission with Native Arts Day.
“A lot of us in Vancouver have never been exposed to indigenous people and their history,” Rose said. “It’s really a way of beginning to interpret what was once a clash of cultures that hopefully now is becoming a community of cultures.”
Tanie-Sch-Pum said people will have to learn to help each other, and be selfless if they want to create a better future.
“We have to somehow preserve this land so it’s healthy for our children,” she said. “What do you want for your grandbabies? You want rivers to be clean. You want them to go to a school where color doesn’t matter. That way we’ll thrive.”