Toronto-based street performer Hockey Circus takes a volatile approach to Canadiana at a performance at Five Corners Saturday as part of White Rock’s inaugural buskers festival. Aaron Hinks photo

White Rock buskers fest invitation to Semiahmoo First Nation withdrawn

Committee members say they decided an opening ceremony would not be in keeping with informal event

An invitation to Semiahmoo First Nation to participate in an opening event for Saturday’s inaugural White Rock Buskers Festival was withdrawn two days before the event.

Chief Harley Chappell confirmed Monday that an organizer had contacted him “about a month” before the festival asking SFN to contribute.

“We were… asked to open this, do a traditional welcoming and share some of our traditional song and dance,” he said.

However, Chappell said when he called back Thursday “to confirm everything was a go,” he was told “we were cancelled.”

Festival organizing committee member Moti Bali confirmed to Peace Arch News Tuesday that he had initially reached out to Chappell about an opening event and had subsequently informed him that plans had changed.

“The committee had decided that we were just having the busking – there was no official opening at all,” he said, noting no political figures or community leaders were asked to take part.

“Even (MP) Gordie Hogg and (MLA) Tracy Redies were not invited,” Bali said.

City cultural development manager Claire Halpern – also a member of the committee, a subcommittee of the city’s cultural advisory committee – acknowledged Tuesday that an opening ceremony had been discussed as the organization of the event – co-sponsored by the White Rock BIA and the White Rock Players Club – progressed.

It had been decided it would not be in keeping with the informal theme of the event, she said.

“We wanted it to be organic, all about the on-street busking,” she added. “We just decided it wasn’t a good event for any kind of opening ceremony.

“It came down to the fact that we wanted it to be like in Europe, where you might come upon buskers performing in a square or public space – we wanted that vibe in the uptown (area),” she said, noting the only formal element was opening remarks by Mayor Wayne Baldwin at the ticketed stage show Saturday night at the Coast Capital Playhouse.

Bali said he had originally felt that an SFN presence would be a good contribution to an opening of the festival.

“Harley was very willing to do this, he wanted to bring his family and provide prayers and traditional dancing,” he said.

Asked if the cancellation of SFN involvement surprised him, Chappell said “it does and it doesn’t.”

“As part of the local community, it’s always customary or protocol to acknowledge the local First Nation,” he told PAN.

While “a lot of people are catching up” with that protocol, some continue to lag behind, he said, noting that “traditional territory… doesn’t abide by municipal boundaries.”

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