POTLATCH...a strict law bids us dance
ProducersU'mista Cultural Society Tom Shandel
- Release Date 1975
- Running Time 54 minutes
- Closed Captions No
- Availability Canada, USA
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POTLATCH...a strict law bids us dance looks at the history of the traditional potlatch ceremonies of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations people. It is based upon historical research compiled by the U'mista Cultural Society of Alert Bay, British Columbia.
This internationally acclaimed film has been digitally restored through a special project of the Audio-Visual Heritage Association of BC, made possible by funding through the Heritage Policy Branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage with the Assistance of the Audio-visual Preservation Trust of Canada. Over the centuries, the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations of the Northwest Coast developed a sophisticated culture based on the ceremonial giving away of surplus wealth. This was the basis of an indigenous social and economic ecology. With the arrival of European settlers intent on the accumulation of property, traditions of indigenous people came under attack with potlatch ceremonies declared unlawful from 1885 until 1951. By outlawing the potlatch, the Canadian government hoped to crush a unique culture as part of its plans for assimilation. The ban also provided the opportunity for government seizure of valuable artifacts to be studied and protected. Directed by Dennis Wheeler and produced by Tom Shandel, this film was created in collaboration with the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations of Alert Bay, British Columbia who retained editorial control. It is based upon historical research compiled by the U'mista Cultural Society of Alert Bay and features important testimony from Kwakwaka'wakw elders. It is narrated by Gloria Cranmer Webster, whose father, Dan Cranmer, came into conflict with the Canadian government when he held a potlatch in 1921 resulting in arrests and a trial. The Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations continue to hold the potlatch today, in the tradition of their ancestors.
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