‘It really brings my spirit up’: Tagish Nation Dancers celebrate 50 years

When Kevin Bayne dances, he feels like he’s dancing with his ancestors.

The Carcross/Tagish citizen started dancing with his First Nation’s dance group, the Tagish Nation Dancers, when he was a small child in 1977.

He’s now one the group’s longest serving dancers.

“In between songs, I’ll find myself still moving, so it really brings my spirit up,” he said. “It’s been really exciting and great. I enjoy it. I really enjoy it.”

 The dance group was formed in 1973 at the Carcross Elementary school by respected Elders Angela Sidney and Clara Schinkel as way for children to connect with their culture.

An archival photo of the Tagish Nation Dancers. Photo: Dawn Alesna

Originally called the Carcross Dancers, the group has gone by many names throughout the year, including the Carcross Tagish Dancers.

The group has gone on to perform at places around the world in places like Peru, Germany and Alaska.

Now in its fiftieth year, its dancers are celebrating the group and the way it has helped connect Tagish Dene and Tagish Kwaan people to their heritage and cultural practices.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Dawn Alesna, the group’s dance coordinator, who performs in the group along with her mother, Carol.

“You just feel good after, and it brings you home even if you’re not home,” she said. “I think of all of my ancestors, my aunties, my grandmas, my uncles. We’ve lost many dancers over the years as well. When we’re dancing and we’re sharing pieces of ourselves with others, I can feel them with us.

Alesna said around 10 to 40 dancers perform with the group at any time. She noted most Carcross/Tagish citizens have danced with the group at one time or another.

Children are also encouraged to perform.

Alesna said it was important to have her four-year-old son, Jeremiah, participate.

“It’s amazing and it feels so good seeing the little ones, having the little ones dancing with us, drumming and bouncing around. They steal the show every time,” she said.

Dance coordinator Dawn Alesna performs with the group along with her four-year-old son, Jeremiah, and mom Carol. Photo: Sara Connors/APTN

Bayne said the group hasn’t been without changes.

He recalled that not many people knew how to make regalia in the early days.

“We’ve seen these, like tremendous regalias coming out and then started adding the carvings and new drums, everything. It’s really evolved since I started,” he said.

Carcross/Tagish First Nation held a celebration on Oct. 31 to honor the group and its contributions to the surrounding community.

Bayne said he’s excited to see what the next fifty years brings.

“We keep getting younger people dancing with us…and that’s a big thing to keep the children and citizens in touch with their culture,” he said.

“It’s been really great. I wouldn’t change a thing.”


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