Theland Kicknosway had already been dancing for three years when he approached his mother with a profound question.
“When he was seven years old he would always tell me, ‘I hope they see what I see, ‘” said his mother Elaine. “I asked him what he meant, he said ‘Do they see the colours that I’m trying to give to them. Like a rainbow. Can they see it?
“I told him I hope so, just keep doing what you’re doing as best as you can and don’t be so hard on yourself when you make a mistake, because you are healing.”
Theland’s vision lead Elaine to discover his trademark LED hoops, which he has worked into his routine ever since. Now 16 years old, Thelend has taken his cultural tradition to the global stage. He performed as part of the opening ceremonies of the Inuvik Sunrise Festival on Jan. 3.
“I’m so happy to have taken up this dance. Not only has it allowed me to learn more about others and the life that we live, but also to learn about myself too and the ability for self reflection,” said Theland. “There’s a lot more to this dance than it seems.”
Part of his journey to the north was a cultural exchange that began with a meet and greet Jan. 2 at the Inuvik Youth Centre. A second workshop is planned for Jan. 5 from 12 to 5 p.m. Kicknosway showed some basic tricks with the hoop and also explained their spiritual significance.
Hoop Dancing is an ancient Hopi tradition that was persecuted in the 19th century and nearly driven extinct. Theland’s mother herself was a 60s Scoop Survivor and his father grew up a native hospital.
Kicknowsay was invited to learn the dance. Now, Kicknosway is helping bring the mystical dances back to their former glory, showing his craft as far away as Switzerland.
Each move in the hoop dance has a special meaning, either reminding the dancer of their connection to the Earth, air and trees, or representing emerging from the womb and being born, or honouring the work of ancestors. Moves are practiced on both sides of the body, ensuring the dance is in harmony with the balance of nature.
Dances also tell stories, with hoops being used to depict spheres, birds, butterflies and wolves, among others. Though Theland noted much of the dance was open to interpretation.
“As Individuals we see different shapes differently,” he noted. “One person might see an Eagle, while others might see a Raven.”
Theland is also a long time runner, having clocked hundreds of kilometres over the last four years as he raised money for the families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. By the time he was done, he had brought in over $5,000 to help out.
“Every step we take is a step closer to justice for these families,” he said. “I’m happy that I have been able to raise this sort of money with a great group of people. To be able to raise awareness to the bigger picture, but to individuals too.”
Running fits heavily into Theland’s whole life. Next year he is planning to do a cross-country run, starting in downtown Vancouver and following the Great Canadian Trial across the entire nation.
Until then, he’s enjoying the travel.
“I love to dance and sing and travel around to powwows,” he said. “It’s a great hobby.”