British Columbia

Keeping culture alive: B.C. Indigenous couple inducted into Dance Hall of Fame

An Indigenous Northern B.C. couple have been inducted into the national Dance Hall of Fame in Toronto. Margaret Harris and her late husband Ken Harris are being honoured for the work they did in preserving North Coast Indigenous dance styles despite cultural bans.

Traditional North Coast Indigenous dance styles were preserved despite past cultural ban

Ken and Margaret Harris, shown at the UBC Museum of Anthropology in 2009, have been inducted into the national Dance Hall of Fame. (Clayton Cooper)

An Indigenous Northern B.C. couple have been inducted into the national Dance Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Margaret Harris and her late husband Ken Harris are being honoured for the work they did in preserving North Coast Indigenous dance styles despite cultural bans.

"I was surprised. I'm honoured and I'm happy to be inducted," Margaret Harris told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

Traditional Indigenous dance was banned in Canada between 1884 and 1951, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. The ban was an effort at assimilation by the federal government.

But Indigenous dance style was kept alive.

Ken and Margaret Harris founded the Dancers of Damelahamid in Prince Rupert in the 1960s, shortly after the ban ended.

Harris is Cree and her husband was of the Gitxsan First Nation in B.C. 

Ken and Margaret Harris founded the Dancers of Damelahamid (pictured) in Prince Rupert in the 1960s. (Derek Dix)

Surviving the ban

Harris says it has long been important to her to preserve traditional Indigenous dance styles. During the ban, Harris says, she had to watch old reels of dances and use pots and pans instead of drums. But it was her mother-in-law who taught her much of what she knows about dance practices.

"I knew in her heart she wanted to revive the culture. So I was willing and open to help her and my heart has always been with my people," said Harris.

Harris says the Dancers of Damelahamid tell stories, and there are morals to learn from them.

"I think that also helps me to bring healing to my people," she said.

The dance group is now led by the Harris's daughter Margaret Grenier. 

Margaret Grenier leads Damelahamid dancers into the Great Hall at UBC's Museum of Anthropology. (Chris Randle)

When Grenier was young, she didn't know the efforts her parents had gone through to keep the dancing styles alive.

"It wasn't until I was older and I was able to reflect more upon this that I really realized how much it had shaped who I am, my connection to my Indigenous identity, my connection to family, to community and to my home," said Grenier.

Listen to the full story here:

From an illegal act to an artistic act honoured around the world. Ken and Margaret Harris are being inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame for keeping the traditions of North Coast First Nations alive. 8:56

With files from Daybreak North.