In the Beginning
In 1884, the federal government introduced the Anti-Potlatch laws, designed to assimilate and acculturate Canada’s First Nations populations. The Potlatch was one of the most important ceremonies for coastal First Nations. It marked important occasions and served a crucial role in the organization and social structure of our communities. Determined to maintain the cultural traditions and languages that had sustained our peoples since time immemorial, the ceremony moved underground, far from the watchful eyes of the local Indian agent.
In 1921, a large Potlatch on Village Island resulted in the arrest of 45 people, of whom 22 were imprisoned, their ceremonial goods confiscated. Many refused to relinquish their way of life and some spent months incarcerated for failing to abide. Others, in an effort to save their Chiefs and nobility from being prosecuted and jailed, reluctantly relinquished their cultural treasures. In 1951, the law banning the potlatch was rescinded but it was too late for the many confiscated pieces that had made their way into museums and private collections around the world.
In 1975, the Hereditary and Elected Chiefs of the Kwakwak’wakw peoples founded the Nuyumbalees Society to negotiate the return of their Potlatch Collection and Regalia, collectively know as Kikasuw. The fifteen Chiefs involved selected Cape Mudge as the location for the building of this new facility, a condition for the return of the pieces. In February 1979, one-hundred and four pieces out of the thousands of of Kwakwa’wakw Kikasuw confiscated, were returned. In June of the same year, Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre opened its doors determined to facilitate a revitalization of the Kwakwaka’wakw language and culture.
Today, the Centre welcomes thousands of visitors each year who come to learn the Potlatch story. Language classes attract participants of all ages and cultural programming helps develop greater cultural capacity in the community.
Nuyumbalees continues to be guided by descendants of the original Board of Directors who hold steadfast to the teachings and spirit of our Elders.