Helen Schiller attended a regalia-making workshop held at the Nisga’a Hall between Sept. 20 to 24. She has been making regalia for others for more than 20 years. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Helen Schiller attended a regalia-making workshop held at the Nisga’a Hall between Sept. 20 to 24. She has been making regalia for others for more than 20 years. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Regalia gives a sense of pride and identity

Regalia holds significant importance to the revitalization of culture — Ron Nyce

The importance of regalia making and its cultural significance was taught at two workshops held at Prince Rupert Nisga’a Hall from Sept. 20 to 24.

More than 20 people participated in the five-day workshops, which were open to Nisga’a members at no cost and enabled them the opportunity to learn more about their culture and hone their sewing skills.

“It is very important because it gives a sense of pride as to who they are,” Ron Nyce, who headed up the workshop, said. “Some of our young people feel they are not recognized. We should be recognized a little more for First Nations people in any given life.”

Nyce said in history, the Canadian government tried to remove First Nations culture by abolishing regalia, totem poles, carvings, drum making. Hence, the making of regalia holds significant importance to the revitalization of culture.

“A lot of times, we have been shut out. But we are still here and will continue to be still here. It’s very important for them to learn this regalia making, to learn our language, to learn our culture, the same way our ancestors used to live.”

While some newer regalia may have various bright colours, traditional Nisga’a colours are black and red.

“Black signifies that one time the whole world was in darkness. Only men wear black with red, and the women wear red with black,” the teacher said. “Red on black means the women are givers of life. The red is like life coming in.”

Regalia will also display respect for animals by having moose bones or bear claws sewn on.

“We treasure animals, and so because of that, we honour them by using their parts as components.”

Blankets, tunics, or ‘blaan’ Nisga’a for apron, may have one of the four crests, eagle, bear, killer whale, or raven applied with abalone or fancy lace to have various levels of decoration and intricacy.

Regalia is personal to the maker and the wearer, Nyce said.

“It is like an identifier. It signifies what tribe you are coming from and what house you belong to. There are many houses in the Nass Valley.”

Sometimes regalia is passed on, like when younger children grow out of theirs. But chiefdom regalia is different, he said. Sometimes it may be passed down, but often it is kept as a house memorial piece or for the museums depending on how high the chief is.

Other times it may be passed on to the chief’s successor. Generally, adults will keep their regalia most of their lives depending on how often it is worn.

“When you turn into an adult, depending on if you haven’t got bigger or smaller, you can use it until you’ve gone to the spirit world.”

People are not buried in their regalia, Nyce said.

“We don’t believe you can take things like that into the spirit world. It does get removed, but it is shown in the memorial service. It will be handed to the next older brother or sister.”

Regalia is worn at many feasts, cultural events like Hoobiyee, religious events like a stone-moving, or celebrations like graduations. At stone movings, only the host family wears regalia.

Nyce’s regalia holds a special significance of its own and depicts a different animal to the four clans he previously mentioned.

“I’m in the Beaver Clan, Beaver Tribe,” he said.

His grandmother told him that over many years only boys were born into the Beaver Tribe. Because the clans are matrilineal and lineage is passed through the mother the tribe started to shrink. To save the line, the tribe amalgamated with the Eagles.

“Now we are called the Eagle-Beavers, but the beaver will always be held first for me because I’m born into it,” he said.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: Ron Nyce

READ MORE: Mistreatment of First Nations will always be a “black shadow on the past”

K-J Millar | Journalist 
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