Cree elder, Margaret Harris, who revived Indigenous dancing on the North Coast with Chief Ken Harris, will be inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame along with Ken in 2019. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Northern B.C. Indigenous couple inducted into Dance Hall of Fame

Chief Ken Harris, Gitxsan, and Cree elder, Margaret Harris, honoured for reviving dance culture

The Harris family were leaders in reviving Indigenous dance on the West Coast, and in 2019 they are being inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame.

Chief Ken Harris and elder Margaret Harris formed the Dancers of Damelahamid in 1967, a dance company that continues to share First Nations culture from Vancouver and across the world.

“I did all of this for my people and I don’t really take credit for it,” said Margaret, in between visits with her family in Prince Rupert. “I just think I did something that my people needed because it was outlawed and they couldn’t practice their culture or dancing or the singing. For some reason I think the creator gave me that gift to bring the culture back.”

She moved to Prince Rupert from northern Manitoba in 1951 to work as a nurse aid at the Miller Bay Hospital. When she arrived, she thought she’d be able to speak her own language, Cree, but she soon realized the North Coast was a completely different culture altogether.

Ken was working at the mill at the time. Every weekend there was a social either at the old civic centre or the Fisherman’s Hall, this was where the couple met. In 1967, Mayor Peter Lester asked Margaret if there was something the Aboriginal people could do for the City of Prince Rupert.

“So I thought, there’s a Trappers’ Festival that we have every March in Manitoba. Maybe we could do something at the beginning of sockeye season, which starts in June,” she said.

The first Indian Day served salmon and traditional Indigenous foods, but there was no dancing. The second year, the Harris family invited the Chilkat Alsaka Dancers to perform.

READ MORE: North Coast Indigenous communities celebrate salmon at festival

“When I saw the Chilkat dancers and we had our first Indian Day I thought, well you know, we should teach our children and that’s when we started teaching the children and then all the other groups wanted their children taught too,” she said.

She was inspired to organize the Kaien Island Dancers. The Harris family stitched the dresses, the dance steps were taught by the grandmother, and the songs were based on the legends of the family.

“There are a number of reasons why we’ve chosen to honour Ken and Margaret Harris,” said Jay Rankin, with Dance Collection Danse.

“Their long time, long term leadership, with respect to popularizing and bringing forward their dances to the community, first in your part of the world for many decades.”

When the mill shut down, Ken decided to attend the University of British Columbia to study cultural anthropology when he was 57 years old. The family moved to Vancouver, and they brought their culture and dance to the south.

“They allowed this influence to carry through generationally through their daughter, Margaret, and also as an inspiration for other artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous across the country,” Rankin said.

Over the years, the Dancers of Damelhamid have performed in Ottawa, New Zealand, Shanghai, Peru and Tokyo.

Chief Ken Harris, passed away in 2010, and Margaret moved to Kitwanga last year. She is 87 years old and has two daughters, two sons and 17 grandchildren.

“I love dance and I wanted to learn the culture of my husband’s people, because I knew my own. Then I wanted my children to learn, their father’s side, because in the Gitxsan Nation you take their names and you have to know the stories and the songs and that’s important,” she said.

RELATED: Heart of Our City – Marlene Clifton gives lessons in drumming



shannon.lough@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Smithers woman awarded $55K in RCMP excessive force suit

Irene Joseph alleged false arrest and assault and battery related to a 2014 incident in Smithers

Flooding highly unlikely this year throughout Skeena watershed

Region’s snowpack among lowest in the province

Why I will relay

Wings of fight

The outside COVID-19 wave

Workers wave hello to being outside

LIVE: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

RCMP facing ‘systemic sustainability challenges’ due to provincial policing role

Provinces, territories and municipalities pay anywhere from 70 to 90 per cent of the cost of the RCMP’s services

One man dead after standoff with Chilliwack RCMP

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the RCMP’s role in the death

B.C. employers worry about safety, cash flow, second wave in COVID-19 restart

A survey found 75 per cent of businesses worry about attracting customers

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Ex-BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver says province came close to early election

Disagreement centred on the LNG Canada project in northern B.C.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money

B.C. premier says lessons to learn from past racism during response to pandemic

B.C. formally apologized in the legislature chamber in 2008 for its role in the Komagata Maru tragedy

Snowbirds to remain at Kamloops Airport indefinitely after fatal crash

small contingent of the Snowbirds team is staying in Kamloops, acting as stewards of the jets

Most Read