...and sometimes other things


Fucking Residential Schools. They were an arrogant, ignorant, ultimately ineffective system in which young native children were taken from their families to have the Anglo version of “civilization” inflicted upon them. Cut your hair. Only English. No tribal traditions or practices. No home contact.

This same sorry story is told all over North America. Canada did it, the U.S. did, too. Both thought their own culture so damned superior that it was a kindness to eradicate another culture completely. With whatever force necessary.

I wrote a more tolerant post about the Indian School in Phoenix a while ago.

So much for my promise to not go nuts about cultural genocide.

The thing that draws visitors to Alert Bay is the U’mista Cultural Center. The displays portray the history of the area and the significance of the potlatch. If this sounds dry, I assure you it is not. The nature of the articacts and the way they’re presented is outstanding. It’s not a large museum, so an hour or two will probably be enough. But you’ll be glad you came.

The view from outside on a wet day is not inspiring.
Outside, a pole is being restored.
This sneaky canine seems to be nipping the figure above it.
The entrance is much more inviting than the waterfront view.

I can show you the exhibited items, but the real value of the museum is the written commentary: personal stories, creation legends from different tribes, and historical explanation. Also: musical recordings, and hands-on demonstration of costume-making.

A chief’s crown featuring a waterbird of undetermined kind. Maybe a loon?

Unfortunately, I can show you nothing of the best part of the museum. There is a room filled with the best and most interesting collection of ceremonial masks I’ve ever seen. For years, the tribes kept these to themselves. The decision was made to include them in the museum, but with photography prohibited.

A short documentary about a potlatch runs in the same room. Native dancing usually leaves me cold. I found this one fascinating.

If you haven’t visited U’mista, go. If you have, go again.

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