DECEMBER 25, 1921


Under an 1884 federal law, persons taking part in a potlatch could be jailed.  Chief Dan Cranmer and others tested the law in the village of ‘Mimkwamlis (Village Island), near Alert Bay, British Columbia (B.C.)–possibly the biggest potlatch ever held on the B.C. coast.  The Indian Agent and B.C. Provincial Police raided the potlatch and arrested 45 people–20 men and women ultimately went to prison for between 2 and 3 months.  Over 600 masks, rattles and family heirlooms were confiscated–many sacred.  Most items went to museums, including the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the British Museum in London, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York.  The potlatch ban ended in 1951.  The first legal potlatch was held by Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Mungo Martin in 1952.  In the late 1950s, Chief Jimmy Sewid began repatriating the taken items.  Most have been returned and the Kwakwaka’wakw built museums in Alert Bay and Cape Mudge to house them. 

Source:  Kevin Griffin, “This Week in History, 1921: Mass arrests at Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch took place Christmas Day,” Vancouver Sun, 12/23/2016.  Retrieved 7/23/2019),
Photo:  Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), circa 1900.  Public Domain in the US:  Pre-1/1/1925.  Public Domain elsewhere where copyright term is author’s life plus 70 years or less.   

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