My mother and I attended a beautiful potlatch event in a Haida home at Old Massett. We saw the long beautiful tables with gifts at each place setting. The speeches, singing, dancing, food, and beautiful home-made gifts over-whelmed us because we were treated with so much love. We were included!
The Canadian government's ban on the potlatch ceremony was in effect from 1885 to 1951 and made it a criminal offense to participate. This gift-giving feast was traditionally used to mark important occasions like marriage, transferring chieftainships, naming of children, coming of age for young people and celebrating life! Did we lose community by not understanding 'community'?
One effect has been a lingering 'patriarchal' culture. One way this practice exists today is that men told agents they were going hunting but they were really practicing ceremonies in the bush. The women would have to stay home. Many ceremonies around the moon times and others have been lost and about which is not spoken very much! Prior to ban, women held the ceremonies!
"There are several women's lodges that are still in the memory of my people but are no longer practiced due to the ban", says Sylvia Saysewahum, in my home Saskatchewan province, the Nehiyawak and Cree Nations!
"A lot of fear was instilled in our people. A lot of our tribes were isolated so they went underground to continue on their ceremonies." William Wasden, Jr.
My personal conclusion: It is obvious that 'governments often do not understand that the arts bring civility to societies'. I saw the Haida loving and living the arts communally which I had not seen before! I did not understand why the arts were not supported in schools by the California government.
How can this 'core value of beauty and civility' of the arts be built into our current communities? My life is forever enriched by the Old Massett Haida. May we be humble enough to learn not to repeat these governmental mistakes.