Swaying to the beat of the slow and steady drum, their colourful, beaded capes shimmer as they perform a traditional dance. While their feet are bare, they wear various styles of cedar bark hats, a few adorned with fur. In the Big House on the K’ómocks First Nation near Courtenay, B.C., the ancient songs and dances of the K’ómocks and Kwakwaka’wakw peoples are alive and well, thanks to the Kumugwe Dancers.
Located next to the Big House, where many of its dance and other cultural activities take place, I-Hos Gallery provides visitors with a continued education in the culture, both traditional and contemporary, of First Nations artists of the Northwest Coast. “More and more, people are looking for connection,” says Ramona Johnson, who has managed I-Hos Gallery since it opened in 1995. “They want artwork that is meaningful to them.”
Johnson, who is from the K’ómocks First Nation, says that in recent years she’s seen “an explosion” in interest and appreciation for Indigenous art and artists. “People do their research ahead of time,” she says of her clientele, both local and international.
Still, she’s happy to share her knowledge with those who ask, along with promoting the more than 50 First Nations artists featured in her gallery. “I can hardly afford to buy from them anymore,” she says of those artists who have gone on to great renown. “Luckily, new artists are emerging all the time.”