Community mourns Tzinquaw founder Ray Peter Sr.

Peter was one of the driving forces behind the well-known Tzinquaw Dancers

Raymond Peter Sr. spent much of his life trying to bridge the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Peter was one of the driving forces behind the Cowichan Tribes’ Tzinquaw Dancers which, during the last few decades, performed at events around the world to showcase the First Nation’s culture.

Peter, known as “Uncle Ray” to hundreds, if not thousands, of people up and down the Vancouver Island coast, died at the age of 79 on Sept. 20.

He was a survivor of the infamous residential schools and worked as a fruit harvester, forester and a long shore man before returning to school to become a teacher’s aide.

In 1979, Peter started work at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre as a youth outreach worker, and worked in both the Nanaimo-Ladysmith and Cowichan school districts before dedicating the last 22 years to Malaspina College, now Vancouver Island University, as a First Nations Elder in Residence.

But, in addition to education, the other great passion in his life was the dances of his people, and the Elders in Cowichan shared the songs and dances of the Tzinquaw Opera with Peter, and gave him the opportunity to share Tzinquaw with the outside world.

He traveled to Holland, China, Colombia, Germany and across Canada with the dancers, showcasing his people and his culture.

The Tzinquaw Dancers, as the group became known, was a great source of pride for Peter, and he relished the fact that he was able to be a part of and share it, because it was based on the history and stories of the Cowichan people.

One of his biggest honours was when the Tzinquaw Dancers were asked to perform at the Opening Ceremonies at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.

Peter had six children and currently has about 40 grand and great-grandchildren.

His son James Peter said his father was a skilled teacher and a true master of storytelling who used his many stories to help his audience to better understand his culture.

“It was very important to my father to bridge the gap between us and non-aboriginal cultures,” he said. “He was a people’s person who liked to share his people’s stories. My father went peacefully at the hospital surrounded by his family and loved ones. He will certainly be missed.”

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