Friday, March 20, 2020


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Belleville's Docfest seems eons ago, even though it was just two weekends in the past. I'm relieved for the organizers that it could occur with record audiences before the COVID-19 shutdown of public gatherings.

One of the many documentaries I enjoyed was Gift, based on a book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which explores the sharing of creativity as a form of generosity and gift-giving. The film tells four disparate stories of cultural and creative gift-giving from different parts of the world. One is from British Columbia where a young First Nations man plans and offers a potlatch, the traditional gathering and feast which is marked by abundant sharing of material wealth.

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I found this segment particularly intriguing because in the past colonial governments in conjunction with the various Christian denominations conspired to outlaw potlatch ceremonies in British Columbia. By 1884 it was literally illegal to participate in one and while they continued to take place surreptitiously for weddings and name-giving and other purposes, there were arrests and even incarcerations until the law was rescinded in 1951. 

"3. Every Indian or other person who engages in or assists in celebrating the Indian festival known as the "Potlatch" or in the Indian dance known as the "Tamanawas" is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be liable to imprisonment ... and any Indian or other person who encourages ... an Indian or Indians to get up such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, ... is guilty of a like offense ..."

It's bizarre that a religion which celebrates the lavish love of God in Christ, a gift which can't be repaid by any human action, would participate in such a draconian action by government. Of course, so much of how church and state engaged with Indigenous peoples in this country made any sense. 

We have our own potlatch artwork called Salish Renewal created by Charles Elliott in 1994. I was in Victoria, BC, as part of a United Church committee for life-long learning and met Mr. Elliott by chance, or providence. Our group went to his workshop where he was pulling hundreds of prints as gifts for what I recall as a wedding potlatch -- my memory may be wonky! I was pleased to purchase this piece.

If you have an opportunity to see Gift I would encourage you to do so. I liked it more than Ruth, but there was value for both of us in the different stories. 

What happens to FridaysForFuture in the midst of a pandemic? My Groundling blog

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Salish Renewal -- Charles Elliott

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