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October 10, 2017

St. Michael's Residential School in Alert Bay

After visiting the U'Mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, a moving tribute to the Kwakwak'wakw people and the Potlatch, we stepped out into the sunlight and viewed a vacant lot adjacent to the
Centre.

This was the site of St. Michael's Indian Residential School, sometimes referred to as the Alert Bay Residential School, and often as "St. Mike's." It was built in 1929 as a regional school for Aboriginal children from North Vancouver Island and the province's north coast, including children from Bella Bella, Bella Coola, the Nisga’a territories and Haida Gwaii.



In fact, these children were forcibly taken from their parents, prohibited from speaking their own languages, kept away from their families for years and inculcated with Anglo-European beliefs. That the school was largely self-sufficient with its own farm, cattle, water and electric plant, was largely due to the free labour pool at its disposal.




"Almighty God for what has been accomplished: for a race of people brought in the shortest period of time known in history from the most debasing savagery to citizenship both in the Kingdom of our God and in his God-blessed Dominion of Canada."
Published in 1934 
by the Indian Residential School Commission 
of the Missionary Society of the Church of English, in thanks and appreciation for  St. Michael's in Alert Bay



Thankfully, St. Michael's closed in 1975. The 'Namgis First Nation was given control of the building and it was used for several purposes. In February of 2015, First Nations, church leaders, former students and politicians attended a healing ceremony hosted by the 'Namgis First Nation to mark the demolition of the building. In May of the same year, 'Namgis had a blessing of the Land ceremony.



There's something strange about standing here, to think about fifty years and more of an "education" system designed to destroy a people. It was such a large building, with classrooms, offices and quarters for 200 students. It was a structure that dominated the town itself, again perhaps part of the design to eliminate an entire culture.


This empty lot isn't empty at all; it's full of stories of pain, fear and anger, that continues to cross generations to this day.

Empty lot photo by Jeem (others: archival photos). 
Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 26, 2017

U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay




U'mista Cultural Centre is one of the longest-operating and most successful First Nations cultural facilities in BC. It was established in 1980 as a project to house potlatch artifacts which had been stolen by government during an earlier period of cultural repression. Canada banned the potlatch from 1884 to 1951.







The return of the potlatch artifacts not only provided U'mista's name (the return of something important), it initiated a trend toward repatriation of First Nations' cultural artifacts.








U'mista now operates a modern museum and cultural education facility in Alert Bay. Operations include the museum, an art gallery and gift shop, group tours, and various presentations.





The potlatch maintained community solidarity and hierarchical relations within, and between, individual bands and nations. It was always a celebration for the entire community and a sharing of food and goods for a special occasion: a birth, marriage or death. Perhaps subversively in the eyes of the government, the potlatch was also a means of economic redistribution of wealth within the community. The celebratory family was expected to share its good fortune widely and freely.



The last major potlatch in Canada, and it was illegal at the time, was held in 1921 in Alert Bay. All the goods were confiscated by agents of the Indian Department and charges were laid. The artifacts, including ceremonial regalia, coppers, masks and more, were distributed to museums and private collections throughout Canada and the US.






An impressive gift shop















One of the few areas where one can actually touch and feel...






U'mista Cultural Centre has seen considerable success in its efforts to repatriate artifacts that rightly belong to the people, and many of those artifacts are here in Alert Bay. The work continues.

... the children's interpretive room.




Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 25, 2017

More than taking the knee ~ 50 years ago

Taking the knee wasn't an option fifty years ago and it took great courage to stand up to racism, militarism and capitalism in America.


"My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.... and shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. … Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail."


Fifty years ago at a US Armed Forces station in Houston, Texas, a twenty-five year old stood beside twenty-five other young men called to the draft. When his slave name of Cassius Clay was called out, he refused to respond. He said no to the American War in Vietnam, was sentenced to five years in prison and deprived of his livelihood. He was Muhammad Ali.

At the time, all those years ago, he had few friends indeed. Ridiculed and vilified by people in power, in the media and in the government, Ali went on to speak out against war, racism, poverty and injustice. In plain language and without regard for the consequence.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs? . . . If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me. I'd join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. We've been in jail for four hundred years."

Fifty years later and not much has changed in the US. Take the knee. Take to the streets. Remember the courage of Muhammad Ali.  And when the time comes, and in the Excited States that time will come: "Just take me to jail."

Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

Duchess' Bannock & Desserts in Alert Bay ~ fantastic!



Along the main drag, down from the ferry terminal, is a little spot that can't be missed on any trip to Alert Bay.









It's the Duchess' Bannock & Desserts place and it is amazing.


The Duchess is a real person and that's her name. Warm and friendly and creator of some of the finest bannock we've ever tasted.







Open everyday, except when Duchess decides to close of course, which happens in Alert Bay from time to time.






This place is a delight: homemade soups, amazing bannock dishes and .... a hot dog, with the necessary toppings, cooked within the bannock. While we didn't get to try this wonderful creation, all reports from the locals, would suggest this is something not to be missed. We did get to try the bannock and berries!

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.


September 24, 2017

Totem Poles of Alert Bay




During our brief stay in Alert Bay we walked through the town, and around Cormorant Island. It's an easy walk and highly enjoyable. People are friendly and happy to share their stories and the stories of their community, and one of those stories is that of the totem poles of Alert Bay.









Totem poles are visual representations about the people who erect them, their ceremonial privileges and identity. The erection of a totem pole is usually celebrated with a potlatch.































In Alert Bay some totem poles are fairly new and others are very old. The Kwakwaka'wakw people believe that nothing lasts forever. When a totem pole is damaged, or falls to earth, it has served its purpose and it is time to let it go. Totem poles are not maintained nor re-painted. Often, recorded information about the totem pole is scant and only the pole's owner, and its carver, can truly describe the significance of the symbols.



The totem pole located near the traditional Big House is considered the world's tallest. Carved during the 1960s, it was raised in 1973. At the time it was an impressive 53 metres in height, but in November of 2007 the top of the totem pole fell to the ground during a Nimpkish wind. Apart from its height, it is unique in that unlike most totem poles, which are specific to a particular family, its figures represent some of of the tribes of the Kwakwaka'wakw.









The traditional burial grounds, and the current 'Namgis burial grounds, where many of the totem poles are located, are not open for tromping about. There's nothing to prevent people from wandering in, but respectfully, we are all asked to honour both the totem poles and the land. The totem poles are easily viewed from the roadside at both locations.



                                                                                                                                                               
In the village cemetery, the combination of Christian and Indigenous symbols is, at first, confusing, and then... captivating.    

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 10, 2017

The NDP Federal Leadership Debate in Vancouver


Early this Sunday morning, we attended the Vancouver meeting of the NDP Socialist Caucus. It was a first for your faithful scribe. It proved to be an interesting meeting of fellow travellers, though G. G. Blynn, our publicist and crisis management consultant, expressed disappointment that we didn't address each other as comrades.




At the close of the meeting we marched down to the York Theatre on Commercial Drive for the final Leadership Debate for the national New Democratic Party. Well, it wasn't quite a march. Blynn wheeled themselves of course, and for the rest of us, if not a march, it was most decidedly: a brisk walk.





A few years ago The York was rescued from demolition and fully restored. Now this 100 year-old artifact from history is part of the The Cultch's group of venues. The York seats 370 and every seat was taken, and the nearby Wise Hall was commissioned and took another 250! The NDP isn't about to become an artifact from history.



An over-flow crowd of over 600.









Leadership hopeful Charlie Angus arrived early to do some hobnobbing with the crowd, though we didn't see him as he had advanced further down the line, a queue that went down the block and around the corner.




We did meet and greet Guy Caron and managed to impress him in both official languages.



Guy Caron & Libby Davies









Finally we entered the grand hall, and the show began.


Niki Ashton, your correspondent's first choice for leader, attended in a digital kind of fashion, on a screen. Niki is pregnant, expecting twins, and unable to travel by air,and the millisecond delay in the satellite transmission caused, to Jeem, an eerie Max Headroom kind of flashback.

In the lead-up to the actual debate, Charlie Angus entertained the assembled with several songs and a personable kind of humour that he wears extremely well, and while Jagmeet Singh, the most fashionably attired politician in Canada, might be funny, he was all-seriousness today.

























Guy Caron was calm, comfortable and looking every bit the Quebecer he is, unlike Justin Trudeau who only pretends-to-be when it suits him.

In his closing remarks he said that when he began his leadership campaign the common remark was "Who is that guy?" but now it's more likely to be, "I like that Guy." 







After 90 minutes, the debate ended. Not boring. No, not boring. Last one left on-stage was Niki Ashton, which coincides with your reporter's unchanged ranking preference: Niki,then Guy.

Photos by Jeem. 
Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.

September 07, 2017

Alert Bay, BC



Alert Bay is on Cormorant Island, which is 4.9 km in length, and 800 metres at its narrowest point. It's an easy walk-about.





The 'Namgis First Nation has the largest population on the island, with 750 people.  The Village of Alert Bay has a population of 440 people, and the remainder of the island's population, approximately 250, are of the Whe-la-la-u Area Council representing seven Kwakwaka'wakw Tribes.




Today, there is harmony on the island. The citizens who share Cormorant Island's compact area have developed a philosophy of neighbourliness, and in our brief time here we were impressed by the friendly and outgoing hospitality of the people.






In 1999,  and renewed in 2012, the Alert Bay Accord, between the Village and the 'Namgis First Nation, was the first agreement of its kind between a municipality and First Nations Band in Canada. It describes common goals and pledges mutual support in civic and cultural matters affecting both jurisdictions.

That mutually beneficial relationship has not always existed.











For thousands of years Cormorant Island, or Yalis, was populated by a great nation of seagoing people who called themselves the Kwakwaka’wakw. One of their most influential sub-groups lived along the rich valley of the river on Vancouver Island and these were the ‘Namgis.














Local history tells the story of strange looking men arriving in 1792 CE. The ship was Discovery and the captain's name was Vancouver. Everything changed.












This island, and the entire region, was rich in furs, salmon, coal, timber, gold and more. There was seemingly an unlimited abundance. The newcomers, took and took and took, and what seemed an inexhaustible resource was depleted.





This is a beautiful place. The people are wonderful. There is still fishing, and trapping, and much more. Though not in the same way as before the invasion.

During one of our walk-abouts, Jeem was invited to go fishing with a First Nations group and had to decline as we were leaving the same day. The invitation stands. And we hope to return.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2017 by Jim Murray.