The Potlatch Ban
The Potlatch Ban, or Anti-Potlatch Law, was added as an amendment to the Indian Act in 1884. The ban made Indigenous ceremonies including the Potlatch, Powwow and Sundance illegal and punishable by law. The Federal Government’s reasoning for the ban was the exorbitant distribution of personal property, as it was considered wasteful and reckless. The ban further assimilated Indigenous peoples who were already feeling the effects of Residential Schools.
The ban lasted for 67 years, from 1884 to 1951 when it was deleted – not repealed – from Canadian legislation. During that time, the spiritual and socio-economic foundations of Indigenous cultures were attacked and criminalized. Families who potlatched in secret – named their children, hosted weddings, remembered those who had passed on, passed on rights, and titles, redistributed their wealth – risked having their masks and regalia seized, or imprisonment.
It has been 67 years since the Potlatch Ban was removed from Law, and Indigenous people are still recovering. We have elders alive today who remember potlatching in secret. Other adults can recall chiefs gathering in living rooms to conduct business years after the ban was lifted. Community members who see the Kumugwe Dancers or Indigenous people in the Comox Valley at various events see only the songs, dances, and words that are shared during National Aboriginal Day celebrations, blessing ceremonies, or educational performances. They do not understand the persecution, loss, and revitalization attempts that individuals and whole communities have experienced. Reconciliation – true reconciliation – is meaningless if people are not fully educated about Indigenous history and experiences.
Origins of 67-67
2018 marks the 67th year since the Canadian government’s Potlatch Ban was lifted, after it was imposed on First Nations for 67 years. Hereditary Chief Rob Everson of the Gigalgam Walas Kwaguɫ, recognizing that many Canadians do not understand the history of Indigenous peoples, envisioned an arts and cultural program that would powerfully engage the local community and fellow Canadians, both Indigenous and settler, about this history and the impact.
Based on Chief Everson’s vision, a group including Lee Everson, other Kumugwe Cultural Society representatives, local Indigenous artists, Elders, and staff at the Comox Valley Art Gallery came together in the spring of 2017 to discuss the magnitude of the project and to ensure its viability and success. It was decided that from June to October, 2018, the Kumugwe Cultural Society will present “Potlatch 67–67: An Indigenous Art Showcse” in the Comox Valley.
The Society contacted artists, cultural carriers, Elders, and arts/cultural professionals and organizations to ask for their participation. The artists were invited to provide responses, through their creative practice, to the impact of the Potlatch Ban and its reinstatement on their lives, families, communities, art making and cultural practices.
Many artists agreed to participate and create new artworks that speak to their relationship and interpretation of the Potlatch Ban. Many of these artists have connections to the “Potlatch 67- 67” creators through various gatherings including arts based activities, clan events and Potlatches.
With organizers, artists, and a clear vision, the creators of Potlatch 67-67 are delighted to present this Indigenous Art Showcase to the people of the Comox Valley in hopes that it will be an engaging and educational avenue to understanding Indigenous History.
Potlatch 67-67: The Potlatch Ban – Then and Now has been recognized as a finalist for the 2019 Governor General Awards for Community Programming.
Umista Cultural Centre Alert Bay – www.Umista.ca
Reconciliation Canada – www.ReconciliationCanada.ca
Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre – www.MuseumAtCapeMudge.com