Indigenous Arts & Stories - Experiencing History

Experiencing History

2013 - Writing Winner

In 2009, my mom told me about an application for a dance opportunity in Vancouver. It was for a chance to performance at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. The main requirement was that you had to be a role model for your culture and as a person. We decided to send in my application to see what would happen. Later in the year, l received a phone call that would forever change my life – I had been accepted into the program.

Read Devon Clifton's Experiencing History

Devon Clifton

Prince Rupert, BC
Hartley Bay
Age 22

Author's Statement

I am writing this story of my experience as a first nation’s youth, being chosen to perform in the 2010 Olympic Grand Opening Ceremony. Never before in history have first nations people of Canada opened for the Olympics’. Never before have all the indigenous people of Canada been brought together in one location to perform and share their cultural dance with the world.

This event was huge and life changing for everyone who was given the chance to participate. I was blessed enough to be one of the selected.

Only 300 Youths, who were considered role models, were selected to represent their regions of Canada. All the different first nations’ people, would travel to Vancouver, B.C. and live in the Squamish area for two weeks prior to the opening. Practicing and preparing the day.

I often think of how our ancestors had to fight long and hard to keep their culture alive, and it was a battle that was almost lost in history. Now, here we were, youths of 2010, being given the opportunity to showcase that same culture to the world, in a way that had never been done before.

It was an emotional, joyful and exhausting experience. We had been given the opportunity to participate in a history making event for our people, our ancestors, and our families. We represented with one heart and participated in the 2010 Olympic Opening Ceremony! We participated in making and experiencing history.


Experiencing History

In 2010 I was one of three hundred young aboriginal people, who were chosen to represent Canada for the first ever “All First Nations” grand opening. This 2010 Olympic opening made history because it was the first time that aboriginal people from across Canada would be performing together as one. This will be the story of my journey to the 2010 Olympics and experiencing history.

In 2009, my mom told me about an application for a dance opportunity in Vancouver.  It was for a chance to performance at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.  The main requirement was that you had to be a role model for your culture and as a person.  We decided to send in my application to see what would happen.  Later in the year, l received a phone call that would forever change my life – I had been accepted into the program. We only had two months to get ready and confirm the details of my trip.  It was such an exciting opportunity, but my excitement had to be contained as I was not allowed to make the news public yet.  Everything was hush hush, for security reasons.

I took a flight down to Vancouver and found out three other people I knew from my hometown area were also going to represent their villages too.  It was nice to know someone else from the area was chosen.  When we arrived at the airport the organizers came to gather us together. It was crazy to think that we were all from different cities, all arriving at the same airport.  It was a huge task and very well organized.   We were introduced to an even bigger group of people as we waited.  Everyone in this larger group was representing a different nation from across Canada.

Once the organizers confirmed that they had everyone that was expected on the flights, we were loaded on to the buses. Everyone had to put their regalia in three separate big trucks. The regalia would be transported direct to BC Place for security protection and set up for the dressing rooms. After we loaded our regalia and luggage on the trucks we went to numbered buses and took a seat. I was in for a long ride on a packed bus full of new people.  It took two and half hours to get to our camp in Squamish.  We lived in this camp for 2 weeks and soon became roommates and friends. We shared cabins that had four bunks in each room.  There were many different campsites, each with a specific number.

At the camp site they had a big hall where we received all our meals for the day.  When you were done eating, you could go choose any activities around the camp to keep busy.  Activities ranged from working out, crafts, storytelling from the Four Host Nation elders to just exploring the trails. The main thing to do at night was sit around the camp fire, socializing, tell jokes, stories and sing traditional songs from all of our nations. Some of us would be around that camp fire until the wee hours of the morning because we were enjoying ourselves so much. We would welcome anyone who arrived to the fire pit or just came back to have some laughs and relax.  It was a great experience that you wouldn’t get living in the city – bonding the different nations and sharing nightly.

Everywhere we travelled was by bus and those rides felt so long at the beginning, but they soon became to feel shorter as we got to know each other along the rides.  Having fun, joking, and talking made the trip feel much shorter.  It was a new experience for everyone.  Every day we would travel from camp by bus out to BC Place in Vancouver.  We would take our seats and meet different people on the bus.  Each person made a lot of new friends that were from all across Canada, it made each day interesting.  Every day we learned something new from everyone on the bus.  We sang songs, told stories and had interesting conversations.  We created new friendships and enjoyed sharing and comparing our experiences of this trip and training.

When we arrived at BC Place, we were kept in the dark about the other opening performers and what would be happening.  Each day I learned a little something new about what would be happening in the opening ceremonies, so I wasn’t completely unprepared.  We didn’t fully learn everything until the night before.  Everything was kept under wraps for security reasons.  No camera, no recorders, and especially no phones were allowed.  This was tough on all of us, because we wanted to document, remember, and share our experiences daily.

Each day and every hour spent dancing and practicing at BC Place, was so amazing and an experience that you can’t even imagine ever happening.  They were also so tiring.   Our days were 16 to 18 hours of straight practice and a full rehearsal. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.  Just when you thought you had no energy left, you’d hear the drums and be ready to go again.

Our first full dress rehearsal was so moving and an amazing sight to see.  It was such an honour to be a part of that rehearsal.  The reality was setting in, on how big this event was really going to be.    Everyone was blown away by each other’s regalia and pride being expressed.  From the BC Northwest Coast to the Newfound land East Coast.  We were all gathered as one single entity.  We were first nations from all aspects of Canada.  We gathered to show the world who we are and what we represent for our people, our families, our elders, our ancestors, and our history.

There were many different types of regalia, everything from carved cedar masks to animal skins.  There were different styles of dancing from the Métis jiggle to the Cree hoop dancing. The native drumming of the North West Coast to the Inuit’s drumming.  Many different aboriginal nations in one place at one time.  Everyone was different, yet there was a feeling of similarity.  All nations joining together to share their culture with the world.

Each night after we did a practice, we always gathered together at a cabin or the camp fire to sing songs and reminisce about our experiences of the day.  We’d be so excited after the practices that we would continue singing and talking.  One night we decided not to go to bed, because we were enjoying ourselves so much and we knew our time was soon coming to an end.  We stayed out singing and storytelling until day light.  We all connected in a way that was life changing.  We all shared about our lives and what it was like back home; our goals in life and how we have changed and learned something from everyone we met in the last two weeks. It was an experience that made you want the night to never end.

Some of those days felt surreal, like it wasn’t really happening.  It sometimes felt like a dream that we were all chosen to be together and meet each other under one roof.  We were so honored to be select to show the world our native heritage.  When you consider how many first nations there are in the world and we were selected…it’s an honour to represent.  We needed to show our best.

On the official day of the Olympic Opening reality still didn’t totally sink in. It wasn’t until we took our first steps out on that grand stage that things became clear.  There we were in front of the thousands of people watching us live and the millions across the world through broadcasting.  The reality hit hard once you heard the drums. The emotions hit us all, knowing that all the people who we loved or lost, but were in our hearts were now above watching and sharing our joy and pride.

That night we danced and became a part of history.  For two hours straight, we danced and welcomed in all the athletes of the world.  It was life changing and very emotional to have that much pride and joy.  The emotion I had in knowing that we were making our ancestors proud and participating in such a historical event, never done before.  I was very emotional, thinking of my grandfather and other family above.  I honestly felt they were there with me, sharing in my experience.  I felt a presence, a power and the joy filling my heart, as I danced for them.

After we left the stage and quickly changed, we were all rushed on to the buses, back to camp.  We all screamed and cheered.  Lots of tears of joy and laughter where shared from the pride of performing. We were all calling family with our phones to share in the moment.  Knowing that it was a moment that will be forever in the history books, changed our hearts forever.  It was a joy knowing our culture was shared to the world, especially since our ancestors worked so hard to keep our traditions alive.  It was now our job to share it with the world and the new generations that follow.

We all hope for another chance when all the nations can be gathered under one roof, to dance, sing, and share together.  To become one heart again.

When we all parted ways to head home, we all left with new memories and new friendships.   We created a bond that will never be forgotten. Our paths would never have crossed, if not for this opportunity.   We all learned about each other’s nations, culture, traditions and where we all came from.  In those two weeks, I met leaders who were in charge of their band council; people who work with the council and people that were youth leaders, etc.  Each person learned something new to take back home and would be forever transformed from our experiences.

We all returned home different people, and for some of us, this was our first journey away from home alone. We were all chosen to be a part of history in the 2010 Olympic Openings as first nation’s role models.  It was a great reward for choosing the life path of learning and sharing in a positive way.  You could not help but want to continue being a better person, and continue to share and learn more of our culture.  We were empowered and will continue the path our ancestors.