Bridging cultural divides 

Queen Charlottes trip the impetus for exploration of aboriginal cultures

WHAT: Trading Secrets

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 30, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Maurice Young Millennium Place

Spotting rainbows. That’s the role for Debra Hillary with this year’s Trading Secrets presentation, a fund-raiser for the documentary film of the same title that celebrates the spiritual practices of indigenous peoples around the world.

"After over 12 years as a jewelry designer in Ottawa, then a professional ski racer out of Whistler, I took a trip... to the Queens Charlottes. That’s where I explored what my journey or path should be – and I saw rainbows everywhere," smiles Hillary, herself a product of Cherokee and Celtic heritage. "Speaking with the guide through the trip I knew that’s where I was heading."

Hillary will host the grand entry ceremony at Trading Secrets, where the show’s participants and audience will walk over a bridge, spanning the divide between old and new cultures.

"Whether consciously or not, they will be crossing over this bridge into new territory," says Hillary.

Travelogue programs, music and film are incorporated into Trading Secrets, to help audiences view the "profound relationship between humankind and the Great Mother Earth."

In the early stages of planning, Hillary worked with Lil’Wat Nation members to build, and use, the sweat lodge open to all community members. Through a process of intense steaming inside the building, Hillary and other participants drew on the energies of the earth.

The experience – leading members in a sweat lodge ritual – raised the energy needed to link between old cultures and new, her main role.

"I’m really like the bus driver, collecting people and ideas along the way," she says. "My job is to convey that learning to others. I’ve lived in both cultures all my life, (I feel) the need to act as a bridge to bring people together and learn from one another. I’m an artist as well, so film is the medium I chose for this project."

Trading Secrets is shot on 16 mm film for the landscapes, and DVD digital video for the talking-head interviews with various tribe members.

The celebration at MY Place, six months in the planning, brings together local musicians, artists, drummers from the Lil’wat Nation and a children’s chorus to help express how the cultures of indigenous peoples, in this case the Lil’Wat Nation, honour the world’s founder, known as Mother Earth.

Support and sponsorship has come from local business communities, including assistance with a music recording Hillary describes as "the recording of a native heartbeat" at Mount Currie’s Spirit Circle Studios. A silent auction is also part of the evening’s fund-raising effort.

Proceeds from the evening will assist with the next part of Hillary’s filmmaking journey, where she will document the rituals of additional indigenous peoples, including the high mountain cultures of Tibet, Nepal, Bolivia and Mexico; the North American Cree, Sioux and Haida; and the Hopi Indians, who previously held a strong presence in Arizona and New Mexico.

Thirteen different shoots will go into the final film, but the current footage for Trading Secrets is of a Nepalese wedding and its rituals, which will be screened Friday night.

Hillary hesitates to specify a timeframe for completion of the documentary, which is contingent on finance, but ideally the project will span the next two years. She hopes that the Tourism Whistler-sponsored Weetama, this summer’s festival celebrating native culture, will act as a platform for Trading Secrets. Both Weetama and Trading Secrets share the common vision to "break down the walls between white and native cultures" through the exploration of sustainable and spiritual practices involving the land.

Funds from the Nov. 30 presentation will also go to the Mount Currie and Signal Hill elementary school programs (Hillary has taught art at schools throughout the corridor) and Altitude Communications, her production company that forms the base of projects like Trading Secrets.

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