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What is spirit dancing?

By Rachel Bergen and Stephanie Kelly

What is spirit dancing?

It is one of the most sacred spiritual practices of the Coast Salish people, including the Stó:lō of the Fraser Valley.  It’s a dance with singing that sometimes includes masks. It is very secretive, and many songs are not meant for the public.

How do you become a spirit dancer?

It’s a calling. Some people will come down with “spirit sickness,” which can be felt as depression, aches and pains.  It’s a calling from the Creator to embrace their spiritual role. First, a person is initiated into the spirit dancer ranks.  This means they will go into the long house for the entire winter, leaving to do spiritual sweats and bathe in sacred pools.  They are waiting to have their song come out, which is an expression of their spiritual power.

Why is it so secret?  

Shirley Hardman explains that the secrecy of spiritual ceremonies is tied to a long history of mistrust. She says people still remember the days when potlaches and spiritual ceremonies were performed secretly, for fear of legal repercussions.

How is it a lifelong commitment?

According to Jeff Point, it’s important for spirit dancers to be committed to their practice.  They should live in the long houses during the wintertime and be devout in their bathing and sweats.  Point has encouraged his entire family to be devout in their spirit dancing and spiritual practices.

Can spirit dancers have jobs?

Spirit dancers can definitely have jobs; they just need to make sure that they continue their spiritual practices. Sometimes they’ll need to wake up as early as 4 a.m. to do their spiritual bathing before work and then come back to live in the long house after work.

Why is water so important?

Eddie Gardner explains how water is a purifier. Its sacred powers wash away everything you don’t need.


Eddie Gardner is an elder-in-residence at the University of the Fraser Valley, as well as an elder at Skwá First Nation.

Shirley Hardman is from Shxwhà:y Village and is a senior advisor on Indigenous affairs at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Jeff Point is a spirit dancer and councillor from Skowkale First Nation.

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