Alert Bay IV: U’mista Cultural Centre

The Meaning of U’mista

In earlier days people were sometimes taken captive by raiding parties. When they returned home, either through payment of a ransom or by a retaliatory raid, they are said to have “u’mista”. The return of treasures from distant museums is a form of u’mista.

U’mista Cultural Centre is one of the longest-operating and most successful First Nations cultural facilities in BC, founded in 1980 as a ground breaking project and houses one of the finest collections of elaborately carved masks, depicting the Potlatch Ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw. It is now a modern museum and education centre in Alert Bay with an extensive art gallery.

The Potlatch Ceremony

Was a gathering which served to validate important events such as the naming of children, marriage, death and the exchanging of rights and privileges. (A Copper documented important events and transactions engaged in during the life of its owner and symbolised wealth. It increased in value every time it changed hands).

The ceremony was first outlawed in Canada between 1885 and 1951.  The masks and other regalia that you see in the cultural centre were all confiscated after an illegal potlatch in 1921.  After the ban was lifted, the Kwakwaka’wakw people fought for decades for the return of their sacred regalia that had ended up in museum and private collections around the world.

The design on the front of the centre is based on ‘Namgis Chief Tlakwudlas’ Big House c 1873 and depicts a Thunderbird and a Killer Whale.

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

9 thoughts on “Alert Bay IV: U’mista Cultural Centre”

    1. History has always fascinated me and I think one of the main reasons I like to travel – to find out about traditions of a different culture. Although one can do that more easily now with all the information to be found on the Net, it is still nice to be where something has taken place years ago and see items for yourself.

  1. Always so interesting to read your posts Jude, this is a great history lesson and I have learned something new today about the Native Indians (fascinating!) thank you! Welcome home from Norfolk 🙂 xx

    1. I love history Sherri, and cannot post anything without researching it in some way. The culture of the Native Americans is fascinating for someone who only learned about the Industrial Revolution at school 😦

  2. Jude, your love of history shines through, and yes, it is a wonderful thing.
    During our visits ‘home’ when we lived in the States, I would love to take my children to a variety of historical places to instill in them a love of their British roots and the history here. It must have worked as they all now have a great love of history, my eldest son even did his BA in history!
    We did the same in California, the history there being quite different of course. Like you Jude, I have also always found the culture of the Native Americans fascinating (I just noticed I wrote Native Indians in my previous comment!). I was shocked at the state of some of the reservations we saw when we visited Arizona.
    I know what you mean about the Industrial Revolution…necessary, I suppose, but very boring 🙂 xx

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