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The Meaning of U’mista

Kwak´wala Transcript

English Translation of The Meaning of U'mista

In earlier days, people were sometimes taken captive by raiding parties. When they returned to their homes, either through payment of ransom or by raid, they were said to have U’mista. The return of our treasures from distant museums and others is a form of U’mista. That is why our old people suggested that this building which houses the Potlatch Collection be called U’mista.

The Potlatch was illegal by Canadian Law from 1885 to 1951 under the Indian Act. Our people were charged and tried for attending Chief Dan Cranmer’s potlatch in 1921. Our chiefs signed a court document and promised not to potlatch until the law was changed, so that people would not be sent to prison. 20 chiefs refused to sign and were put to jail. The Potlatch Collection was taken from our people under this illegal agreement. Most of our treasures have returned home and are housed in the U’mista at Alert Bay and the Nuyumbalees at Cape Mudge.

The anti-potlatching law was never actually repealed through formal legislative action; rather it was merely deleted from the Canadian legal codes in 1951. The Kwakwaka'wakw had hoped that the Canadian government would make a stronger statement about the nature of the law by formally repealing it.

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