Sam Bryant has been the Museum of Northern British Columbia’s artistic director of First Nations culture since the late ‘90s.

Sam Bryant has been the Museum of Northern British Columbia’s artistic director of First Nations culture since the late ‘90s.

Heart of our City: Sam Bryant deeply rooted in his culture

For Sam Bryant, having a close connection to culture and family is of paramount importance.

For Sam Bryant, having a close connection to culture and family is of paramount importance.

Sam was born in Prince Rupert, but grew up in Lax Kw’alaams. The Bryant household was a full one, with Herbert and Beatrice being the proud parents of seven boys and four girls.

Being part of a large family during his upbringing was pleasant for Sam.

“It wasn’t what you’d expect for that many people living in a house. It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of jokes, a lot of stories, a lot of pranks and a lot of bugging each other,” he laughed.

The Bryant children entertained themselves, coming up with games to play and exploring the village, constantly finding ways to have fun.

“We had quite the adventures. We’d run on the beach on the shoreline and in the forest,” Sam said.

“I was a crazy kid, there’s no doubt about that,” he laughed.

During the week, Sam ferried to Prince Rupert for school, where he would meet the love of his life.

Sam and Marilyn, his future-wife, went to the same high school and she immediately caught his attention.

“I saw her coming down the hall one day … and said, ‘You see that girl? I’m gonna marry her’. All my friends laughed at me because I didn’t even know who she was,” Sam said.

But his prediction turned out to be correct, with the couple marrying three decades ago.

Something Sam struggled with during his teenage years was finding his identity.

“The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome in my life was to find myself. I always wanted to be something else … even when I came to school here it always seemed like I was missing something and wanted something, but didn’t know what it was. So I did all these crazy things,” he said.

“When I think about it, it was just trying to find out who I was.”

Although First Nations culture was always present in the Bryant household when Sam was growing up, it wasn’t until his early adulthood that he really got in touch with his roots.

“My culture is what steered me in the right direction,” Sam said.

But he also attributes his successes to the people who stood beside and supported him throughout the years.

“It’s always the people around you that push you in the right direction,” he said.

After graduating high school, Sam lived in Prince Rupert where Marilyn was earning her teaching degree. The couple would give birth to a baby boy while residing in the community, their first of three children.

After Marilyn finished her schooling, the family moved to Lax Kw’alaams where Sam became a youth support worker, a job he held for five years.

In Lax Kw’alaams the Bryant family continued to grow, welcoming another son and a daughter to the family.

Just as his parents had done when he was growing up, Sam made sure Tsimshian culture was part of his children’s everyday life, teaching them to appreciate their ancestry.

All three of the children were in the Lax Kw’alaams Tribal Dancers group with their parents when they were older, with their grandparents also being part of the group.

“We were all together. It was quite something,” Sam recalled.

When the Museum of Northern B.C. moved to its current location, the Lax Kw’alaams Tribal Dancers were invited to perform at the opening celebration. Sam inquired about a job and was eventually hired as the museum’s artistic director of First Nations culture in the late ‘90s. The family returned to Prince Rupert, making it their new home.

Sam said he absolutely loves his job at the Museum of Northern B.C., with one of his favourite aspects of the job being facilitating tours for international visitors, educating them about the history and culture of Aboriginal Peoples of the area.

“That’s the pride for me, educating people from around the world of who we are,” Sam said.

A couple years after moving to Prince Rupert Sam initiated the Sm’Haalyt Dance Group, which incorporated two of the most important things to him: his culture and family. The group consisted of members of both Sam’s and Marilyn’s families, as well as the couple’s children and grandchildren.

Although the Sm’Haalyt Dance Group is no longer together, it was a huge source of pride for Sam to have his grandchildren singing and dancing alongside him. It is his hope to instil in them the same appreciation of their heritage that was ingrained in him by his parents.

Sam is thankful for all that his mother and father taught him­­­­ ­- things that seemed insignificant at the time but ended up shaping him into the person he is today.

An example is a ritual the late-Herbert Bryant enforced during holiday dinners of getting everyone to stand up and share their thoughts with their family.

“We couldn’t sit there and not say anything, you had to get up and say something,” Sam explained.

The procedure paid off, helping Sam and his siblings become comfortable with public speaking. Sam is a tribal speaker today, often talking on behalf of the Tsimshian Nation at gatherings and events.

“I’ve started incorporating that with my grandchildren not so long ago,” Sam said.

“I try to teach them to speak in public the way I was taught.”

Sam said he picked up an interest in cooking from his mother and enjoys experimenting with meals he prepares for his family.

“I always loved watching my mom cook,” he said.

“Even today I try to duplicate her cooking, but it never tastes the same as mom’s did.”

Sam has an abundance of fond memories from his time in Lax Kw’alaams. Although he misses the village and its inhabitants, Sam said he intends to stay in Prince Rupert for the long haul.

“I’ve got my feet settled in Prince Rupert. I love this little town,” he said.