Sum’shathut festival welcomes community to Hul’q’umi’num’ celebrations

Founder and curator Tsatassaya (Tracey) White weaves traditional with contemporary for a cultural celebration all can enjoy.
xe' xe' Productions performs hwlttsus lhqelts (Jealous Moon) at Sum'shathut festival
xe’ xe’ Productions performs hwlttsus lhqelts (Jealous Moon) at Sum’shathut festival. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

To mark the return of the sun and to celebrate the local nations who’ve marked the solstice for generations, Crimson Coast Dance Society will hold the third Annual Sum’shathut (Sun) Festival at Beban Park Social Centre on Saturday, Dec. 17, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. 

Tsatassaya (Tracey) White, of Snuneymuxw First Nation and Earthquake House in Hupačasath First Nation (Nuu-chah-nulth), is the founder, curator and co-producer of Sum’shathut.

The celebration was pitched by White to Crimson Coast Dance as a community gathering open to all, offering non-Indigenous people an opportunity to experience protocol and practices from around the Island.

“As the curator, I think it’s always really important to weave together traditional dance and song and arts with the contemporary,” White says. “I want to create something for everyone.”

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Sum’shathut will include music by DJ DBL-G, Hishuk’ish Tsawalk dance performances and singing by Ecko Aleck-Sacred Matriarch.

Prayer and stories will be shared by Snuneymuxw Elders, led by Elder Lolly Good. Guests will be able to view cedar and wool weaving demonstrations by Chenoa Point and Stephanie Thomas. And a play told in Hul’q’umi’num’ will share a seasonal story. Traditional-styled foods will be sold during lunch while plates last.

“We’re so honoured,” Holly Bright, artistic managing director of Crimson Coast Dance tells The Discourse. “[Tsatassaya White is] a bright light in the community, very adept at event planning. And she just wanted to create something special for people to gather and share, and celebrate culture through all the senses.”

For Bright, Sum’shathut is a chance to celebrate what is shared. “We get a little bit of a sense of how much we’ve missed and how much we get to enjoy now in terms of experiencing a beautiful sharing and a lot of generosity.”

A dancer in Coast Salish style cloak, black with beaded stars and a while fathering around the edges, raises one and up and one hand forward. Two performers in similar cloaks stand to the right and behind, mimicking the movement.
Hishuk’ish Tsawalk dance group will be returning to this years Sum’shathut festival. Photo courtesy of Crimson Coast Dance

While neither White nor Bright could name a favourite performance, both are eager for guests to take in hw’I’ttsus lhqel’ts: Jealous Moon, a play written by Chris Alphonse entirely in the Hul’q’umi’num’ language and performed by xe’ xe’ Productions, a student-led theatre troupe from Simon Fraser University. 

When asked what emotions a play entirely in the local language brought forward, White cherishes those who have protected the language.

“I think the ancestors are going to be so joyful. Especially when we have it here in Snuneymuxw territory,” White says. “It’s a language our ancestors spoke fluently and tried to keep intact against all odds. And it’s a beautiful thing that I think is going to be really emotional. And to just share that with everyone.”

Guests will also be invited to write on paper what they want to release or what intentions they want to make before entering the new year.

At the end of Sum’shathut, they will be encouraged to drop the papers in a fire built by a protocol-led Fire Keeper. 

For White, this closing point of ceremony is a way to bring strength to the new year. “We’re going to burn those intentions and send them out to the universe. And with all of those good intentions, hopes, and prayers we’ll be looking forward to the future, to the good in it.”

Sum’shathut will also include a trading post market where Indigenous artists and vendors will be selling their work. For younger participants, Nanaimo Art Gallery will provide arts and crafts in the Children’s Sunshine Play Area.

Tickets can be purchased online and are available on a sliding scale to allow access to as many as possible.

“This is about bringing people together and learning together and learning about people’s culture, and their language and their foods and their artwork,” White says.

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