Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nick Dangeli used to perform in his Git Hayetsk dance group up to five times in a week, sharing the culture of the Nisga'a people in venues all over the province. These days, Nick sings or dances on his own to keep his spirits up.
“It has been quite a toll and it has been really hard," says Nick, 24, whose traditional Nisga'a name is T'im-Ky'o'o Hayetsk'kw, which means backbone of the copper shield. “I try to sing. My Nisga'a Nation has a lunar new year called Hobiyee for the changing of the harvest season. In Vancouver and the Nass Valley each year we'd have a big celebration that would be happening at the PNE with multiple nations from all over the coast who would come and sing and share songs."
Nick is proud of his Indigenous heritage, with ties to the Nisga'a, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Haida, Gitxsan, Tsetsuate and Colville peoples. He sees culture as good medicine and singing and dancing has been healing for him and his people.
“It's been even harder for the past couple of years now because it hasn't been as frequent as I've come to be used to," says Nick.
Like many Indigenous families hit by the pandemic, Nick's uncle Woody and his auntie Denise were hospitalized with COVID-19. He couldn't visit either of them because they were in the intensive care unit at New Westminster. He and the Git Hayetsk dancers stood outside the hospital to sing songs and offer healing prayers.
“We were outside in the rain just singing every song that we could. There was a big group of us, family members going around singing and just sharing those prayers."
His auntie recovered but Nick says his uncle Woody, who was a lot older, passed away.
“It was a huge loss, losing uncle Woody, for not only my family but for his family, for our Nation, for our community."
When the COVID-19 vaccines became available, Nick says that there was nervousness over the “thought of the unknown." As he works at an Indigenous group home in Vancouver, he was offered the vaccine. He accepted it, he says, because the vaccine is more than just a personal decision.
“What we're living right now is beyond us. It's beyond our individual selves. We have to take ourselves out of it and consider not only the ones who came before us but also the ones coming after us. Our future generations."
Nick says he understands the colonial impact on all Indigenous Nations and the mistrust of Western medicine. Understanding there is historical trauma, Nick says he looks at the vaccines from both perspectives.
“But also it's about putting trust into those that have studied this and are continuously looking into things to only help. Not only our Nations, but all humankind."
The vaccines are a way back to the culture that Nick says he misses so much. Every day that he doesn't see his Git Hayetsk family and friends, it makes him think about the hardships his ancestors endured.
“The pandemic reminds me of probably how a lot of what our ancestors would have felt when they went to residential school," he says. “Not being able to sing, not being able to dance, not being able to be around their families. It's really hard, especially when you're used to having that and knowing how hard our people worked to have that."
However, Nick is optimistic. He sees the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel and says we're getting closer to it.
These days when he's feeling down from the pandemic he'll watch videos of past years on YouTube or listen to old recordings and drum along or sing. He says it's about staying connected even when he doesn't feel connected to his world anymore.
He cites the teachings of his parents and Elders, that even though things may be hard at the time, it's important to keep your spirit strong.
“Keep sending those prayers, whether you consider them to be the creator or God, whatever you wish to call him, her or they, you keep that mindset, that strength and that resilience. You keep that light, but that light is in you. You can try to seek it, you can try to find it but that true light is inside all of us."
Do you need to get vaccinated?
It's important that people age five and older get their first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as boosters when they are offered.
To register for a vaccine clinic, visit: gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated.html.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccines see: fnha.ca/vaccine.