Column: Canadian police raided 'illegal' potlatch in 1921

"Chief Bill Wilson is Hemas Kla-Lee-Lee-Kla, a hereditary chief and modern native politician who challenged Phil Fontaine two years ago for the job of national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

So when he called me last week to tell me I had my facts wrong in a story involving his grandfather, I listened even though my account was based on the historical record.

In a column two weeks ago, I wrote about the 1921 raid on a potlatch on Village Island. It led to the seizure by police of ceremonial masks that were eventually returned and now form the heart of the collection of the U'mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, about 30 kilometres to the east.

The story as told by the U'mista centre and repeated by me is that the potlatch was thrown by Dan Cranmer from Alert Bay at the now deserted village of 'Mimkwamlis. The village site is marked on the map as Mamalilaculla, which is actually the name of the tribe.

Potlatchs were illegal at the time. Dan Cranmer's was a big one, with an extensive guest list and expensive gifts.

Wilson says the bones of the story are correct. There was a big potlatch. The police moved in, a lot of attendees were sent to jail, and their masks and other paraphernalia were seized.

Where Wilson differs with the official version, if I can call it that, is over how the police found out."

Get the Story:
Craig McInnes: Was the 1921 potlatch raid a sting set up by the police? (The Vancouver Sun 8/21)

Earlier Column:
Craig McInnes: Declare this island a national historic site before it's too late (The Vancouver Sun 8/7)