Dissident by Andy Everson
Dissident by Andy Everson Dissident by Andy Everson

Dissident by Andy Everson

Dissident Acrylic Edition
Mask Series II
Signed & Numbered

In December 1921—almost exactly 100 years ago—Chief Dan Cranmer hosted a huge potlatch on Village Island. He invited hundreds of chiefs and noble people from numerous different villages. It was one of the biggest potlatches ever held at the time. As always, the chief showed his ceremonial prerogatives: his songs, names and dances. In payment for witnessing the ceremony, he distributed valuable goods to all of his guests. What the participants didn’t know is that there were informants hired by the Indian Agent and the RCMP to report on those who took part in the potlatch.

In early 1922, the Canadian government charged 45 individuals with violating the anti-potlatch law of the Indian Act. The judge gave them all an impossible ultimatum: hand over all of their ceremonial regalia or face imprisonment. The chiefs of several tribes chose the former and relinquished their cherished masks and garments. They also gave up their “coppers”—shield shaped objects that held immense worth and acted almost like bonds within our Indigenous economic system. In total, some 750 objects were confiscated and held by the Canadian government until their return in the late 1970s.

For people from the villages who refused to give up their prized possessions, they were sentenced to prison. Of the 45 originally charged, 20 were carted off on a steamship to face jail time at Oakalla Prison in Burnaby, BC. For what? Dancing? Handing out apples to the guests? It would be laughable if the truth wasn’t so hard hitting. They sent these dissidents to prison to try to break the potlatch—to try to dismantle our entire socio-economic system. They attempted to degrade our high-ranking chieftains by making them feed pigs. They sent our hamat̓sa dancers to do manual labor. I feel so fortunate that our old people were better than that. Upon release from prison, they went straight back to potlatching. They were the guardians of our old ways.