U’mista Cultural Centre, Alert Bay
U’mista Cultural Centre, founded in 1980 to house potlatch artifacts that were seized by the government in 1921, operates a museum and offers cultural education in Alert Bay from May to September. In 1884 the “Potlatch” was deemed illegal but the law was not applied until 1921 when 45 people were arrested for dancing and holding gifts. Potlatch artifacts were given up in exchange for suspending the sentences of those charged. The confiscated paraphernalia was stored at the Anglican Parish Hall at Alert Bay, and other pieces were sold to private collectors and museums. The Kwakwaka’wakw continued to practice the potlatch in secret. When Chief Mungo Martin held the first public potlatch in 1952 in Victoria, efforts began to repatriate the objects. The National Museums Corporation Board agreed to return their holdings of the potlatch collection if a museum was built to house the collection. In 1974, the U’Mista Cultural Society was formed and museums were built in Cape Midge and Alert Bay to house the artifacts. Negotiations are ongoing for the remaining 24 artifacts. U’mista operates a museum, art gallery, gift shop, group tours and presentations by dance troupes.
For more information, check out www.aboriginalbc.com/packages/umista-cultural-centre
Photo Caption: These two duck headdresses are among the potlatch collection on display. The theme of these masks is often portrayed when the artist is creating a piece that tells of human transformation.