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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments!