Potlatch 67-67

Sunday July 22 I returned to Victoria from an incredible journey in the Comox Valley with the K’ómoks First Nation. Not, as you might immediately think, a landscape traverse kind of journey, this was a journey of the soul. In the past I’ve been privileged to attend a number of first nations ceremonies, enough to have given me a beginning in my personal education process about the true history of Canada. Through stories told during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, I’ve become aware of some of the atrocities inflicted on children in buildings just like that the big white school building in Carcross, Yukon that I knew back in 1971, which was at the time an operational residential school. My return to the valley was to attend Potlatch 67 67 events.

As a privileged, white settler immigrant, I had heard the words ‘potlatch ban’ before, read them in museum exhibits, it was not until I heard Hereditary Chief Rob Everson’s clear articulation of the importance of the Potlatch and the impacts of the ban, that I in any way understood the significance of those two words.

Potlatch 67-67, The Potlatch Ban Then and Now, is an unprecedented collaborative program between the Comox Valley Art Gallery and the Kumugwe Cultural Society.  An undertaking of monumental proportions, demonstrating a level of commitment and collaboration we need to see more of if we are to effectively move towards reconciliation. My journey to the Comox Valley was specifically to be present for the opening of Hiłt’sist’a’am, The Copper will be Fixed exhibit at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, and a day of ceremony and cultural sharing at the K’ómoks Big House.

images Medwyn McConachy

I was moved to tears by what I witnessed. I learned through drum, dance, voice and heart, how the ban had ripped the soul right out of indigenous peoples’ culture, just as the residential school system had ripped the hearts right out of indigenous families. Cultural genocide are appropriate words to describe how the settler government systematically set out to destroy the indigenous peoples not by war – Canada is proudly not a war-mongering country – by a slow and painful extinguishment of rights and culture.

I have always felt welcomed in the K’ómoks Big House. My experience of the generosity, education and sharing flowing from the Kumugwe Cultural Society at annual ceremonies on June 21, the Walking with my Sisters exhibit, and the Red Dress campaign, has been the ground for so much of my education about BC indigenous history, stories, culture and traditions.

Potlatch 67-67 served to deepen and expand that education far beyond anything I have experienced to date. In the presence of esteemed elders whose wisdom guided the creation of the event, the Kumugwe Cultural Society offered teachings, ceremony, celebration, and dance to a Big House audience of their neighbours who occupy and live on the unceded territory of the K’ómoks nation in what is generally referred to as the Comox Valley.

DSCF3570 Karver Everson leads the Womens’ Dance with sister Keisha in the background – image Medwyn McConachy
DSCF3573 Lee Everson in the Womens’ Dance – image Medwyn McConachy
Grizzly Bear dancer – images Medwyn McConachy
Across the generations – Honored Elder Mary Everson, Hereditary Chief Rob Everson and youngest dancer
– images Medwyn McConachy
One mask many faces – images Medwyn McConachy

And everybody danced, to the drums and the powerful songs, danced with eagle down clouds around their heads, danced in gratitude and celebration.

DSCF3606image Medwyn McConachy
DSCF3614image Medwyn McConachy

Elder Mary Everson spoke of how important it is to ‘hold people up’ always keeping them in a positive light, always encouraging, always teaching.

Hereditary Chief Rob Everson spoke of the Everson family history:

” My grandparents were very instrumental in preserving our culture….. my grandmother was a princess a very high ranking woman ……..my grandmother carried a chief’s name, it was given to her so that she had standing in the big house so throughout her life she had standing in the big house ……..that name was passed down to my mother (Mary Everson) so that she would have standing, she could carry anything we had as a family and she could potlatch without me or any of my brothers, and she had the authority to do what she needed to do within this house.”

Andy Everson spoke of how the name of the gallery exhibit ‘The Copper will be Fixed’ came to be:

“We have been slowly putting that copper back together to give it back that value so the symbol of the show has these pieces riveted back on and there’s still one piece missing and that’s to illustrate that there’s still work to be done to make that copper whole to make it as valuable as it once was.”

To say that I felt privileged to witness this event is an understatement, I was humbled and awed by the power of this culture, recognizing yet again how very much we have to learn from the ways of our indigenous brothers and sisters.

 

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