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PHOTOS: Nisga’a find a home away from home at Hoobiyee celebrations in Vancouver

Standing in the presence of it all, you can’t help but feel like this year’s harvest will be a good one

If you’ve ever lived far away from the place you consider home, you may know the feeling of homesickness.

It can be difficult to articulate that feeling of being displaced, or a longing for the landscape with which you are familiar.

Likely you’re missing the people you love, your friends, neighbours and family — the traditions that would bring you all together to share space, stories and food.

Reunion with those people, those traditions, and that sense of belonging is precisely what the Hoobiyee celebration in early March in Vancouver was, hosted and organized by the Nisga’a Ts’amiks Vancouver Society (NTVS).

“One of the biggest things is family, and you miss that so much,” said Matt Azak, an elder of Nisga’a Nation.

“You don’t get to see a lot of the family members because of [COVID-19], we’re a really close family, we hug and stuff like that.

“We never got to do that through the last couple of years. That’s one of the big things we miss. We’re a closely knit community, so it’s really hard when we can’t get together to teach or talk together face-to-face.”

First came the welcome dinner on Thursday, March 2, held at the PNE forum in Vancouver.

“Welcome” being the operative word — each guest was greeted as they arrived, announced to the enormous room, and made to feel welcome right away.

They were led to their tables and met up with family and friends who they may not have seen since 2019, when the last local Hoobiyee was held.

Any observer could see reunion wherever they looked. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, Nisga’a family of all kinds and members of other First Nations. Invited guests such as myself, and guests who were just curious, meeting the other people seated at our tables, happy to share something about themselves.

“That’s one of the things too, is the culture part. You notice that at home, you have all these Nisga’a Nations and villages coming together,” said Azak.

“Here in Vancouver, it’s just us here in Ts’amiks, then we have multicultural nations coming to our Hoobiyee. So it’s a little bit different than what you see up north in the Nisga’a Lisims area.”

The next two days were filled with further joyful reunions and culture. Young people could watch and participate in the ceremonies and dances that have been in their family for thousands of years, and hear the stories passed down through countless generations. Artisans and craftspeople sold their handmade wares, crafted using methods their great-great-great-grandparents used — in some cases with the exact same materials.

The welcome feast on March 2 saw an attendance of around 800, while the March 3 and March 4 festivities saw between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger every year,” said Lavita Trimble, a board member of the NTVS and an organizer of this year’s Hoobiyee.

“We’re helping breathe life into the culture for many of the other nations that have had a hard time with the fear of stepping into it. From the colonization, the way it was banned for so many years, I’ve noticed that a lot of the survivors have had a fear of practice.

“But here we are, breathing life into their culture, restoring the roots, because it’s an important piece to our mental health.”

Anthony Robinson is the executive director and CEO of NTVS, and spoke highly of everyone who helped to make the event happen.

“The logistics are different,” said Robinson. “Because we’ve got to worry about securing adequate venue space.

“We’ve got to get all these certificates in place, like fundraising licences, health licences. The staff here work day and night, sometimes 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., making sure this two and a half day event takes place.”

The team of organizers is small. The planning committee and board of directors provide input, but long hours of work were necessary to make the event happen.

“Up home, back in the valley, we own those facilities, easy access there. And here, we’ve got to secure those facilities and also the vendors,” added Robinson.

“We have almost 65 vendors that will be set up selling all the native artwork, so that will be a great attraction.”

Hoobiyee is a festival about the new harvest year, survival and nourishment — and being together through the difficult times and the joyous ones.

Standing in the presence of it all, you can’t help but feel like this year’s harvest will be a good one.

READ MORE: Hoobiyee comes to Laxgalts’ap Village