One chieftain has been recognized for his continuous efforts in preserving and sharing the Nisga’a culture in indigenous communities throughout the province.
Chief Chester Moore, a hereditary chieftain from the Nisga’a community of Gingolx, was awarded with the Order of B.C. last November. As an individual who wasn’t sent to a residential school, Moore has the opportunity of a traditional upbringing and shares his experience through the arts.
His stepdaughter Francine Gail Gurney said, “He’s always teaching and never hesitates to teach.”
The 50-year-old said he is gentle with everyone and the children call him “ye’e,” a term of endearment which means “grandfather.”
Moore’s biography on the government website said he has been actively composing songs, choreographing dance groups and drum drills, teaching carving and cultural practices since the early 1970s.
Gurney was in her 30s when Moore and her mother starting dating. His presence has enriched people’s lives, especially hers.
“I was the shiest person around,” Gurney said. “I wasn’t confident in myself. Once he started teaching our [dance group] – oh my gosh – everything just opened up. Connection to our songs, connection the dance. It was pretty amazing. Things just got better from there.”
As people learned the dance, the group just grew, she said.
“At my first practice, I was so emotional, so emotional about having the opportunity to learn. It just makes me emotional even thinking about it because it touches my life in such a way that my whole perspective on our culture just opened up.”
Dance practice and music helped Gurney heal from the racism she faced while growing up.
“I was ashamed of our native language, our culture,” she said. “I was ashamed. I didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it until I was exposed to that. It’s OK to be First Nations. It’s OK to identify as a First Nations person.
“The way I grew up, I was constantly talked down to, made fun of, and bullied. Made ashamed of my colour, tradition, culture. Racism.”
Moore, through his teachings, cultivated a sense of pride in the identity in the Nisga’a community.
Gurney continues to dance and she said holds her head up high now. She doesn’t have the same reaction to racist comments or attitudes.
Moore was unavailable to comment by press time.