Spring Equinox celebrated at Duntze Head


Bill Stewart

Bill Stewart, a member of the Ahousaht First Nation, recites a prayer during the Spring Equinox Sunrise Ceremony at Duntze Head on March 20. Photos by Leading Seaman David Gariepy, MARPAC Imaging Services

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Each weekday morning as the sun begins to rise, Bill Stewart begins his day with an offering of song in the form a traditional Aboriginal drumming ceremony at Duntze Head.

The 60-year-old technical data specialist at Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton is a member of the Defence Aboriginal Advisory Group (DAAG) at Maritime Forces Pacific and a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth nation.

Last Wednesday, his ceremony was a little special as it paid homage to the sunrise of the Spring Equinox, when the Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the sun. This happens only twice a year; the Fall Equinox is in late September.

Accompanying Stewart was Sergeant Nicolette Ducharme, who also drummed, and a few observers. The ceremony honours the natural world, and Stewart says several animals have revealed their presence as he performs it.

“These songs are understood by certain animal species. Birds, including eagles and ravens, herring, salmon, sea otters, whales, elk, deer and even bears come out to acknowledge the Spring Equinox.”

This year’s occasion was marked by the passing of an eagle and a pair of Canada Geese.

In 2017, a killer whale appeared in Esquimalt harbour.

“My elders have advised me to continue with the song because the eagle spirits have come to me with the Travelling Song and that is to be good luck to all who hear it.”

Stewart, who is 90 per cent hearing impaired, began his career with FMF 26 years ago. He has served as co-chair of DAAG on several occasions. In more recent years he has become highly active with his Nuu-Chah-Nulth community, which is located near Flores Island.

He says his performances are also about the process of reconciliation.

“It’s the presence of Aboriginal drumming that gets a conversation going,” said Stewart. “It acknowledges my ancestors through song, which people can learn through listening versus coming to conclusions. It’s also an effort to help people from the mainstream population understand and respect our way of life.”

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