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The ban lasted for 67 years, from 1884 to 1951 when it was deleted – not repealed – from Canadian legislation.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.
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.
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.
Thank you to the Canada Council of the Arts – Creating, Knowing and Sharing: the Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples Program for their contribution towards our Potlatch 67-67: The Potlatch Ban – Then and Now thematic educational program. The Kumugwe Cultural Society would also like to acknowledge the investment of our community members. In particular, the Comox Valley Art Gallery has been a strong ally in reconciliation and we hold our hands up to their outstanding support of this program.
For more information, visit the Potlatch 67-67 site.