potlatch ban

March 23, 2009

Photo from a crime scene: This 1922 photograph shows masks seized from dancers and other participants after a raid on a potlatch ceremony in British Columbia. (Royal British Columbia Museum)


There was a s raid in 1921 on a potlatch hosted by Chief Dan Cranmer.
“They were charged with really criminal things like dancing, giving speeches and distributing gifts,” said Ms. Cranmer Webster, a former director of the U’mista Cultural Center in the family’s home town of Alert Bay, Canada, which is on an island about 180 miles northwest of Vancouver. “They were given a choice: if they gave up all their treasures, their masks and regalia, they wouldn’t have to go jail.”

Some of the Indians refused, and 20 of them were sent to prison for terms of two or three months. Other surrendered their masks and regalia, many of which ended up in museums in Canada, the United States and Britain. Eventually the museums (including the Smithsonian) returned most of the masks, which are on display at the U’mista Cultural Center. Some masks remain in the hands of private collectors (…)
One of the reasons the Canadian government outlawed potlatches was based on information from missionaries that our people would be involved in debaucheries at these events and no work would get done. But the potlatches were held in the winter time and our people used to work so hard the rest of the year to gather up gifts to give away.”

John Tierney.The Potlatch Scandal: Busted for Generosity

potlatch ban video 1
potlatch ban video 2


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