During the potlatch ban, many families risked imprisonment to continue our sacred ceremonials. In isolated communities, they waited until the weather got bad before they would begin their potlatches. In this way, they knew that it would be difficult for the Indian Agent and the RCMP to get to the village and arrest the participants. In communities that were surrounded by a non-Indigenous population, however, this tactic could not work. Here, our people would condense and conceal our ceremonies and invite their guests under the guise of socially acceptable Canadian institutions such as the tea party.
In the 1930s and 40s my grandparents, Chief Andy “Nagedzi” and Margaret “U’magalis” Frank, did just such a thing. They would invite people over to discuss ceremonial prerogatives and give out names to their family members which were sometimes recorded in ledger books. Because they had invited their guests as witnesses, they would distribute gifts and disburse money to them. After the anti-potlatch law was dropped for the Indian Act, my grandfather bought a reel-to-reel recorder and starting recording these sessions which are used as reference to this day. I honour his foresight by including his actual recorder in this piece.
Concealed under the table is a design that represents the hamats a dances in my grandparents’ box of treasures. It is this particular dance and its imagery of cannibalism that frightened the Canadian government and contributed to the creation of the potlatch ban. Painted with the traditional use of graphite in the paint and mica flakes to reflect firelight, this piece harkens back to an early aesthetic. Like a sacred dance screen—a łamilas—it can be raised and lowered and concealed from view. To the casual observer, it may look like a typical tea party, but for our people it was a critical way to keep our culture alive under the oppressive watch of the Canadian government.
Andy Everson was born in Comox, BC, in 1972 and named Na̱gedzi after his grandfather, the late Chief Andy Frank of the K’ómoks First Nation. Andy has also had the honour of being seated with the ‘Na̱mg̱is T̓sit̓sa̱ł’walag̱a̱me’ name of Ḵ̓wa̱mxa̱laga̱lis I’nis.
Influenced heavily by his grandmother, he has always been driven to uphold the traditions of both the K’ómoks and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw First Nations. In this regard, Andy has pursued avenues where he can sing traditional songs and perform ceremonial dances at potlatches and in a number of different dance groups, most notably the Le-La-La Dancers, the Gwa’wina Dancers and the K’umugwe Dancers.
Pursuing other areas of traditional culture has also led Andy to complete a Master’s degree in anthropology. Because the K’ómoks First Nation lies on the border between the larger Salish and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw realms, his thesis focused on notions and expressions of contemporary Comox identity. His work in anthropology provided him with a background in linguistics which subsequently inspired him to create a company, Copper Canoe Inc., that specialized in the creation of Aboriginal language media.
Although he began drawing Northwest Coast art at an early age, Andy’s first serious attempt wasn’t until 1990 when he started designing and painting chilkat-style blankets for use in potlatch dancing. From these early self-taught lessons, he has tried to follow in the footsteps of his Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw relatives in creating bold and unique representations that remain rooted in the age-old traditions of his ancestors. The ability to create and print most of his own work has allowed Andy to explore and express his ancestral artwork in a number of contemporary ways.
Andy’s work is well known. His design of a fist holding a feather is recognized as the logo of the “Idle No More” movement, and his “No Pipelines” graphic is also used on signs and buttons around Canada and the United States. Andy is currently engaged in a research project that uncovers and recognizes the place-names of the K’ómoks people within the territory.