ALERT BAY—The ‘Namgis First Nation put on a welcome ceremony fit for royalty Monday afternoon, opening its Big House and putting on a show of singing and dancing for a visit by Prince Edward and Princess Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, and B.C. Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon.
“We are a welcoming family,” said Debra Hanuse, recently elected ‘Namgis Chief. “It’s part of our tradition, welcoming guests to our community. And we’re always happy to share our culture.”
Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth, made the stop on a four-day tour with his family of parts of B.C. After arriving by helicopter on the soccer pitch adjacent to the Big House, the entourage was given a private tour of the nearby U’mista Cultural Centre, followed by a brief meeting with several Indian Residential School survivors.
Then, it was on to the Big House, nearly filled with ‘Namgis Band members, other Alert Bay residents and visitors from Port McNeill, Sointula and beyond.
“I think it’s so important for the royal family to go through all of society, and it’s good to see them here,” said Graham Tomkinson, a UK resident who traveled to Alert Bay with his wife, Sue.
In their first visit to Cormorant Island, the Earl and Countess were treated to a taste of Kwakwaka’wakw culture and tradition in the Big House dancing.
Offered the traditional seating for honoured guests, they looked on through performances of the welcome dance, the finale of the Ha’matsa series, the salmon dance and the closing children’s dance, during which they were coaxed from their seats to take a tour around the fire with the other dancers.
In his short prepared remarks to the audience, Edward drew a laugh and applause when he said how much he appreciated visiting Cormorant Island.
“This is the first time that either of us have been allowed to escape from either Vancouver or Victoria,” he said as the drummers joined in the applause. “It seems that in all the years I’ve been coming to British Columbia those are the only two places in existence. It’s been a great pleasure to come here and explore the beautiful lands you have here.”
Before climbing back aboard the helicopter, the royal couple and Guichon were each presented gifts by young masters of ceremony Danielle Barnes and Adrienne Cranmer, and in turn presented gifts of their own to hereditary ‘Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer and to Alert Bay Mayor Michael Berry.
During the weekend, the Countess met another North Island family when she visited Jeneece Place in Victoria.
Jeneece Place opened in 2012 in Victoria, and has provided support to over 550 families with children requiring medical care at Victoria General Hospital. Numerous local North Island families have been able to stay in the facility, the building of which was supported by local Rotary Clubs.
Abigail McCor-quodale, who has required numerous surgeries in Victoria, and who has stayed at Jeneece Place, was honoured to meet the Countess during her visit. She and her parents, Doug and Brenda McCorquodale, played a spirited game of foosball with the Countess.
“She was really nice, and very pretty,” said Abigail. “We beat my mom and dad in foosball, 5-2.”