Potlatch comes alive again     [May 6, 2022]

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National Geographic on location
Cluxewe Resort, Port McNeill BC

Lee says National Geographic the ships, not the magazine. NGS offers eco-cruises to Alaska (and other places around the world). Two of their ships were on their way through heading north, one of which we saw early this morning by our RV site and the other in Alert Bay.

The cultural centre is an eye opener for Haida culture. Lee was impressed by the use of vivid colours on the potlatch masks and outfits. Potlatch is the name given to the west coast indigenous dances and ceremonies.

Alert Bay also highlights some darker issues from the past, still felt today. The Canadian Government outlawed potlatches about a hundred years ago and took all potlatch ceremonial treasures away from the indigenous people. It was only late in the last century that they were able to get those treasures back, many of which were in the hands of museums and collectors, some as far away as New York.

And once again we saw evidence of the embarrassment of Residential Schools. There was one (demolished in 2005) right next to the Cultural Centre. Evidence seen by us again just like in Cowessess, Lebret, Kamloops, Rosthern and more.

As we waited for the return ferry trip, we struck up a conversation with an indigenous man wandering near the dock. When I mentioned the Residential School it brought tears to his eyes and he told us he had gone to that school.

Where does one start Today we ventured out to Port McNeill where the small ferry Aurora was ready to take us to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. While we were on that island, the eco cruise ship National Geographic Quest (Seattle Washington) docked at the port.

We actually viewed very few of the townsite buildings, but did capture photographs of many of the remaining totem poles that once numbered around 41. Some of the poles have been moved to Stanley Park in Vancouver, some are now in various museums around the world. This is Kwakwaka'wakw Territory. The totem poles are on the 'Namgis First Nation' burial grounds. The carvings on the totem poles may include Eagle, Raven, Frog, Killer Whale, Grizzly Bear, Thunderbird and Dzunuk'wa ("zoo-noo-kwah"), a giant Woman of the Woods figure in Kwakwaka'wakw mythology. I will leave it to your curiosity to look it up if intrigued.

The totem poles are very individual as the artist carvers and the meanings of many of the carvings have been lost as the carvers or those honoured by the carvings are no longer with us. We did photo the worlds's tallest Totem Pole at 173 feet. Six carvers worked on the pole, completed in the late 1960's and raised in 1973. In 2007 strong winds ("Nimpkish") blew the top ten feet of the pole off. Some of the pieces are now in the U'mista Cultural Centre, which we toured. It was initially designed to house the potlatch artifacts being returned to the local 'Namgis community. U'mista means "the return of something important"

Before catching the ferry back, we stopped at the Passn 'Thyme pub. It was a beautiful clear blue sky day - perfect to be able to wander and speak with few local residents too.