Ernie Philip (DANCING BEAR) was taken from his family at the age of eight and placed in the Kamloops Residential School.  When he left the school eight years later he had learned to hate the white man and to despise his own people.  He had no idea who he was.  He was haunted by thoughts of suicide.

Then he began to dance.  And dancing, he came to understand all that had been lost, and how to recover it.  His life has been a dance of recovery that has led him to a place of remarkable strength and power.  DANCING BEAR is Ernie Philip’s story.


Ernie Philip (DANCING BEAR) tells the story of his life from two perspectives: the factual events themselves, and then his observations about the awakening awareness that the events inspired.

Born into a gentle and loving commmunity Ernie Phillip's early childhood is full of wonderful memories.  Then, at the age of eight, the Canadian government removes him from his family and forces him into the grotesquely cruel and bigoted assimilation program of the residential school system.  He is taught to despise his own people, and learns to hate the white man.  Released at the age of sixteen he enters the world a traumatized victim, another lost soul of a disenfranchized people.  Hard-working, self-supporting, he survives.  Yet the shadow of suicide hovers in this thoughts for years.  He fights.  He succumbs to alcoholism.

     Alcohol does not kill the pain.

Ernie Philip signs himself into a rehabilitation clinic and falls in love with Yvonne, a nurse working there.  He leaves the clinic, stays dry a year, and then he and Yvonne are married.  One day Ernie observes a traditional First Nations dancer in full regalia, chatting and laughing with a white man.  Ernie doesn't understand this, confronts the dancer – how can he be so at ease with the white man?

     The dancer teaches Ernie to dance.

     Dancing brings Ernie Philip the healing he has so long sought.  It becomes his vocation.  He dances all over planet Earth.  Eighty five years old now, he still dances with the suppleness and grace of a young man.

     He knows exactly who he is.

Ernie tells his story as a spiritual odyssey.  And in so doing gives us a seris of moving insights into the traditional core values of his own people.  He embodies the recovery of cultural and personal identity.  He is a living example of how-it-is-done.

Ernie Philip's life can be seen as a metaphor for the history of the last five hundred years: the arrival of the white man, the decimation of the aboriginal peoples of this continent, the attempted annihilation of their collective identity ... and now their slow but steady recovery, virtually unnoticed, unremarked upon, by popular media.  Ernie's story perfectly reflects this desceent into the void, and the long arduous climb back into the light.  He gives us a roadmap for the journey, offering a path forward that is remarkable in its simplicity and wisdom.