On January 15, Beau Dick (Walas Gwa’yam) hosted the Lalakenis Feast in the AMS Great Hall at UBC. Beau is a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief, a renowned artist, and cultural leader. The Lalakenis Feast was a celebration for the opening of Beau’s Lalakenis/ All Directions: A Journey of Truth and Unity exhibit that opened the following day at the Belkin Gallery. This exhibit is in response to and in conversation with Awalaskenis II: Journey of Truth and Unity, a journey that Beau and others took from UBC to Ottawa to enact a copper breaking ceremony. The Lalakenis Feast was a day-long event and had a long list of presenters and performers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from a diverse array of artistic traditions.
The Lalakenis Feast brought together a diverse community of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. It was a profound opportunity for relationship building and bridging understanding between all those that participated in the event. Beau’s vision of creating a space of unity resonated powerfully with the speakers, dancers, and singers that presented their work.
Chief Robert Joseph reflected upon the concept of relationship building as reflected in the Kwak’wala word “Namwayut”. He stressed that reconciliation requires more than dialogue, it requires repairing and strengthening relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I think that artistic collaborations are an integral component of the broader process of reconciliation, as they epitomize the practice of relationship building. In the words of Anishinaabe artist Emilie Monet,
“Collaborations are entities of their own, that move and evolve as projects unfold and individuals transform. Artistic collaborations nourish inspire and help push boundaries further. They allow space for growth, for new knowledge to be acquired and for new friendships to be born. They can bring people together to collectively envision a different world.”
These endeavors are incredibly complex for they bring together a multitude of people from a diverse range of communities, families and backgrounds each with their own unique set of values, experiences, teachings, and worldviews. Accordingly, collaborations are quite difficult to accomplish as they require the individuals involved to overcome any personal barriers that they may have that inhibit the necessary compassion and understanding as well as the broader societal structures that divide communities to be addressed. In this way, collaboration is a decolonizing act, for the task of working collaboratively necessitates that the parties involved overcome the divisions that colonial violence has torn into our lives. The multiple realities that collaborators weave together have the power to create dialogue and hopefully bring meaningful change and understanding to all those who witness it. Collaborators weave together histories, erase boundaries, and ask witnesses to see connections that may not be obvious. For example, at Lalakenis, Beau and his brother, Gyauustees, worked side by side to host the event, even though they came from very different backgrounds. Gyauustees comes from a background of sundance and Beau comes from a background of potlatches.
My hands go up to Beau, his family, friends, and community that work tirelessly and generously with the utmost humility to host such events with the intention of creating unity among all people.