Alex Harry and Kayleen Hanna stood side by side with a blanket draped around their shoulders, on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Thompson River in Interior B.C.

The young couple from Lytton, B.C., got married in a ceremony that included rare Nlaka'pamux traditions.

"To have the traditional ways, that's an important part of being joined together as one," Hanna said.

Traditional weddings don't happen often in Nlaka'pamux territory. The custom fell out of practice due to colonization and cultural suppression, but Harry and Hanna sought out an elder to learn about the old ways.

Nearly 100 guests joined them on the Nicomen Indian reserve, a four-hour drive from Vancouver, to witness the ceremony.

Practising Nlaka'pamux tradition

Ursula Drynock, chief of the Nicomen Indian Band, and Rosalin Miles, Harry's cousin, played hand drums and sang as the wedding party entered a clearing near the edge of the cliff.

Ursula Drynock, chief of the Nicomen Indian Band

Ursula Drynock, chief of the Nicomen Indian Band, and Rosalin Miles, Harry’s cousin, beat hand drums and sing as the wedding party approaches the cliff and the wedding begins. (Peggy Lam)

Hanna's mother, Mary Davidson, bound the couple's hands together with a red ribbon. Her brother, Jody Hanna, draped a blanket around their shoulders to symbolize their union.

Harry's great aunt, Dorothy Phillips, said a blessing in the Nlaka'pamux language. She blessed their lives together and wished their families health and happiness. Then she circled the wedding party and guests with a smudging bowl full of burning sage, fanning them with smoke from the sacred plant.

"This is a way of bringing back our own ways from a long time ago," Phillips said. "If people are brave enough to [get married] in the old traditional ways, then it should be done."

Community effort

Around 100 of Harry and Hanna's family members and friends attended. Many of them were involved in planning and preparing for the wedding.

"It's a high honour to have all of them out there to witness and be a part of our ceremony," Harry said. "It's the highest honour to me."

The reception that followed the ceremony was a potluck. Guests brought traditional Nlaka'pamux foods to share, including wind-dried salmon, roast moose and baked bannock.

Harry and Hanna said they were happy to host a large community celebration. In recent years, many of the bigger gatherings have happened because someone died.

"First Nations people are just there for each other, not just for funerals," Hanna said. "We're here for the good times too."

The couple said they are honoured to bring tradition into their wedding.

"I really hope that people out there continue to strive to keep the traditions alive, because that's where your heart and soul is at," Harry said. "That's where my heart sits right now."

Infographic

An Nlaka'pamux wedding is a community affair. (Alexander Kim and Peggy Lam)