Teach me the Ways of the Sacred Circle

Published: July 18th 2010
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Our last ferry ride was a doozy. We were picked up at 4:30 a.m. and delivered to the Ferry terminal for a 5:30 departure. We had booked a berth and headed straight for our ‘stateroom’ on the M.S.Taku- one of the oldest ships in the ferry fleet. Wow! Our room was twice the size of the last one and ‘Ta-Da!’, it even had a little red ladder that Val could use to get into the top bunk. While that was helpful, the 2 ½” of headroom didn’t make the task any easier for her. She’s a trouper! We both fell asleep for a few hours- me much longer than Val. I was awaken because cold breezes kept blowing across my head. I put my sweater over my head but the breezes were still freezing. Apparently, some bloke who either used the room before us or had cleaned the room had left the window open about 3 inches from the top. When the boat got underway it was mighty cold.

The ship had a wonderful ( if pricey) cafeteria with a good variety of meals- soups, salads, sandwiches, ribs, fries, and a host of desserts and drinks. We called it our ‘almost midnight cruise ship buffet.’ There really were very few people aboard so we has some lounges to ourselves indulging in a bit of fantasy that we were on our own private 395’ yacht. We got to bed early and gave up watching the movie ‘Sherlock Holmes’ because we had to disembark at 1a.m.. I guess if you were to ask me the only drawback to the ferry system I would have to say the times of arrival or departure. It takes a bit to get back into a normal sleep schedule.

We went through a lovely customs experience as we entered Prince Rupert, B.C. The only real request the officer asked was that we fill out a survey before we left Canada, and, he was careful to point out the postage was pre-paid. We got into the terminal and looked in vain for a taxi. It was now almost 3 a.m. their time- so zip, nada, zilch. There was another older lady looking around and it turned out that she also needed a taxi. We joined forces and decided to ride into town together. Ahh, but first one had to call the taxi and we had no Canadian money- but she did. While waiting for the cab she told us that she had come down to attend a play that her friend’s daughter had written. They were from the same tribe- the Tsimshian’s. The daughter had died a few years ago and this was the first time her play was being presented in Prince Rupert.

There is not much to say about Prince Rupert. It has a dwindling population ( now down to around 11,000) because the pulp mill, which had been a major employer in town, left a few years ago. The fishing industry has pretty much dried up so the canneries are closed. Many of the stores are empty, and those that were open were of the Dollar Store genre. Most were running 50% off sales. People looked stressed and tired. The only thriving businesses seemed to be restaurants, While Sitka lacked them, Prince Rupert had them in abundance and they all were very good. We were amused by the combinations of food served all in one place. La Gondola was the most ‘upscale’ one we saw and it had really, really good Italian food in a semi- fancy dining room ( read that as table cloths and artificial flowers). It also had a drive- up, park and order section a’la A&W Root Beer or Sonic ( sorry, the waitress didn’t have roller skates on). And to top it off they had a take out window for what they claimed to be the best ice cream in Prince Rupert. Of course, we tried it and it was pretty darn good. We also ate at Herby’s Vietnamese and Canadian food - fantastic Spring rolls. We tried The Bamboo Shoot- another Vietnamese and Canadian food place. It was the best one so far. The pregnant waitress was also the cook. And we just had to try Zorba’s- this served Greek, Sri Lankan, Indian, and pizza. All of these places were a 2 minute walk from our hotel. Fun and obviously not much else to do in town.

We saw a poster for the play our friend who got us the taxi told us about. It was called “Teach me the Ways of the Sacred Circle”. It was a fund raiser for the Valerie Dudoward Foundation. She was the woman who wrote the play and has since passed away. She was the first aboriginal girl chosen as Miss Prince Rupert. She was only the second aboriginal to be hired by the Canadian Broadcast Station. While she had lived in Vancouver for many years prior to her death, it was obvious that she always maintained a relationship with her family and her tribe. We bought tickets and later learned that the price included hors d’oeuvres the show, AND a seafood dinner. While waiting for the show to begin we had a chance to talk to many people who knew Ms. Dudoward, including her mother, who was thrilled that we had come.

One gentleman, about our age, was there with his daughter and her friend. While the women wandered amongst their friends, he kept us entertained. First, he couldn’t believe we had come all the way from Memphis and New Orleans to visit Prince Rupert. We talked about everything under the sun but his best lines were about how stubborn the English people were. “Why if Hitler had told them to keep fighting , they would have stopped. But, no, he told them to surrender and look what happened!” He went on, “The English don’t know how to retreat. When they want to quit they shout advance to the rear.”

As it was getting closer to show time two older men walked by us in full ceremonial regalia. We commented on how beautiful their outfits were and they came and showed us the handiwork. They were both chiefs of their tribes and the Tsimshian people. One wore his hair in a long gray ponytail. On his head was a hat woven of cedar strips It was a conical shape but flat on the top. It looked sort of like the cooling tower of a nuke plant. His cloak was black with red trim and as long and wide as a blanket. Sewn all along the edges were hundreds of ½ inch mother- of -pearl buttons. There was an inner row of 1 ½” buttons following the same pattern. On the back was a huge animal design and at his neck was a bear claw - as they were of the bear tribe. He turned around and asked us if we saw all the hair that was sewn onto his cloak. It was gray and other colors and twisted into a skein and held in place by several buttons. “ It’s the hair of all the women in my life- my wife, mother, and daughters.” He seemed most proud of that.

The second chief also had on a black robe decorated in red. There were many red marks in patterns resembling how a bear would scratch at you. He also had hundred of buttons on his cloak and a beautiful edge design on the back. He was most proud of his headdress which had over 46 white weasel skins each one with a black tip. These were attached to a carved eagle totem centered on his forehead. The furs draped down his back It was mighty impressive. On his feet he had almost knee high boots made of rawhide. Attached to each piece of fringe was a triangular piece of deer antler so that he rattled as he walked, He was Ms. Dudoward’s uncle and the other chief was her first cousin., They had come in their chief’s regalia to honor her.

They told us they were getting ready for a naming ceremony. Each aboriginal person can choose to take a tribal name. He told us that over 30 are coming for names next month. Imagine our surprise when they were on stage and mentioned how honored they were to have visitors from the states ( that would be us.) It was such an honor to speak with them and learn about their tribes.

Unfortunately, neither Val nor I had a camera with us. I have tried my best to describe them but I’m afraid I could not fully give you the extent of detail on each robe. It was quite a night and one that we just lucked into because of sharing a taxi.



19th July 2010

love the description...maybe better than a picture. :-) L
20th July 2010

The Sacred Circle is Fate & Beautiful
Carolyn--What a wonderful story. Looking forward to hearing more about the play. God was indeed watching over your and Val to give you this incredible opportunity. Your clothing descriptions of the two Chiefs were so clear--no camera needed. I bet you could get your taxi friend to send you photos if she knows them well. The play's author would be fun to know much more about. Sounds like a "woman before her time." Would love to have been with you. Keep up the terrirfic blog work. This needs to be your "Northwest Passage" book!!! I bet no one has ever written a travel book about the ferry system. Seriously! You might even get a Canadian publisher!!!!!! Love, Bev

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