Mique’l Dangeli dances with Git Hayetsk. Photo by Chris Randall.

Mique’l Dangeli dances with Git Hayetsk. Photo by Chris Randall.

Git Hayetsk comes to Juneau

For the first time, the dance group Git Hayetsk will be performing in Juneau, where its leaders are making their new home.

The dance group, whose name means “people of the copper shield” in Sm’algyax, the language spoken by the Nisga’a, Tsimshian, and Gitxsan Nations, is co-led by Mique’l and Mike Dangeli. The group will host a dance workshop on Friday, March 24 for people of all ages, races, genders and abilities. Participants will be invited to be in a dance with Git Hayetsk the next day.

“I couldn’t dream up a better way to enter into this new community that we’re living in, bringing forward the work that many of the people within Vancouver and Juneau know about through social media … Nothing beats connecting to our community face-to-face,” Mique’l said. Both she and her husband Mike have danced in Juneau before, but never as part of Git Hayetsk.

This is Mique’l’s first year as an assistant professor of Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska Southeast; she and Mike moved to Juneau from Vancouver before the start of the school year. Mique’l is Tsimshian and Tlingit, and she grew up in Metlakatla. Her work focuses on visual and performing arts, art history, protocol, politics, sovereignty, language revitalization and decolonization.

Mike is of the Nisga’a, Tlingit, Tsetsaut and Tsimshian nations. He spent the majority of his childhood in Juneau, where his grandmother used to lead Juneau Tsimshian-Nisga’a Dancers. He works as an artist and carver, and founded Git Hayetsk in 1999 (Mique’l joined him in leading the group in 2003).

Git Hayetsk is a dance group with members from the Nisga’a, Tsimhian, Tlingit, Haida, Gitksan and Haisla Nations. The Git Hayetsk began with around 10 friends and family members. Over the years, it expanded to 40-60 members of the different First Nations, the couple said. While there are numerous dance groups already in Vancouver, many are not from local nations but from all over British Columbia.

They’re considered a “nax nox” group. One of the ways the Git Hayetsk are “nax nox” is by wearing masks while performing.

“Our masks … are embodiments of our ancient history and ongoing history and they’re also our spiritual connection to beings that live in our world, that are still very much a part of our lives, that are unseen by those that don’t have these connections,” Mique’l said.

In “Dancing Our Stone Mask Out of Confinement: A Twenty Century Tsimshian Epistemology,” Mique’l writes: “As a supernatural power and spirit, nax nox animates everything around us; through it, nothing is inanimate. Everything has its own name, breath, and life, and is intricately connected to those around it.”

Mike said group members use around 100 different masks.

“The masks really excite people because people normally think (the masks) are just something you see on a wall or museum … and realizing it’s a living, breathing culture, that still exists and is still practicing their ancestral rights and privileges is pretty amazing,” Mike said.

The group has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has also performed in Austria, Malaysia, Germany and Japan.

Their performances are one “of the most meaningful and powerful opportunities for exchange,” Mique’l said. It’s important to the Dangelis to explain their history and culture to the audience. That way, they provide an entry point into a deeper understanding of the meanings of the songs and dances. They also use the opportunity to educate people on cultural and political issues affecting indigenous peoples, like the protest at Standing Rock about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Saturday dance performance will include a Q&A session so the audience can learn more. Mique’l said the Q&As are meant to be “safe and generative spaces.” No one, she said, should silence themselves for fear of offense.

At the performance, the Git Hayetsk will perform songs passed down by Mique’l and Mike’s families, songs gifted to them, and songs they have written.

“Singing the songs of our ancestors is of the utmost importance, but if we don’t continue to write new songs and dances, our people’s history stopped with [those songs]. This is our way of recording and maintaining our history,” Mique’l said.

At the workshop, Mique’l will teach the choreography to a song gifted to her by David Nelson III for her 30th birthday. It’s a Tsimshian women’s honor song dedicated to Wilma Caines, a Metlakatla cultural leader.

Mique’l said she had wanted to create a dance for the song for years. With the International Women’s Day on March 8 and the Women’s March Jan. 21, the song felt timely.

“It’s really wonderful because it creates balance [and] because we are a matrilineal people,” Mike said. “It makes sense to honor where our rights and privileges come from, and they come from our women, from our mothers and our grandmothers and our aunties.”

The workshop will celebrate women of all races. Men are encouraged to participate too.

“It takes both genders to truly, truly make this work in just the way that my husband and I lead the dance group in partnership. We do this together,” she said.

The workshop is on March 24 from 6-8 p.m. at UAS’s Recreation Center dance studio. The Git Hayetsk performance and Q&A will be on March 25 from 6-8 p.m. at the Egan Library on the UAS Campus. Both events are free and open to the public.

“Our culture is not just surviving, it’s thriving, and it’s beautiful to see this continued work that our people have continued since time immemorial,” Mike said.

To learn more about Git Hayetsk go to githayetsk.com and vimeo.com/41855868 for a short documentary. To see past articles the Weekly has done on Mique’l and her research, go to juneauempire.com/art/2016-09-14-0?quicktabs_1=0 and capitalcityweekly.com/stories/111616/ae_1271407207.shtml.

Git Hayetsk dancer as a baby killer whale. Photo by Chris Randall.

Git Hayetsk dancer as a baby killer whale. Photo by Chris Randall.

Mike Dangeli. Photo by Chris Randall.

Mike Dangeli. Photo by Chris Randall.

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