Skip to content

The Truth About the Potlach Ban of 1885: How Cultural-Marxist Academics Lie About Our History to Change Canada’s Creation Mythos

In 1885 the government of the Dominion of Canada created a law that made it illegal for natives on the west coach to practice the ritual that has become known as the potlach. An important piece of strategy that has been achieved by native activist academics and their cultural Marxists allies is creating the mainstream social consensus that banning the potlach ceremony amongst the Northwest Coastal Native Tribes (NWCNT) was a grave historical injustice in Canadian history. If you were to type the word “potlach” into a Google search engine right now, you would find thousands upon thousands of webpages on how evil it was for early Canadians to ban the potlach and on how the potlach ceremony can teach us all to live in harmony. Many of these sites even propose that we replace capitalism with the more equitable and sustainable potlach.

The narrative that the banning of the potlach was an act of evil colonialism is part of the larger project of changing Canada’s creation mythos from one of bravery, exploration and pioneering to one of Original Sin. This changes the role of EuroCanadians in Canada’s creation story from explorers and hardy settlers to a role of petty exploiters. The current consensus on the potlach, and its banning, is highly flawed and is built on incorrect assumptions that are enabled by the mechanisms of control employed by a cultural Marxist dominated academia. Here I will discuss a different view of the potlach ban and how the current consensus view is legitimated and used against EuroCanadians to separate us from our heritage as descendants of this country’s creators.

The Potlach

The potlach was an important cultural institution among the NWCNT. It was what early anthropologist Marcel Mauss considered a “total institution”, which is to say that the practicing of the potlach was the foundation for all aspects of NWCNT social life. The ceremony is where land ownership titles, leadership roles, debts, obligations and most other functional aspects of NWCNT culture were reinforced and communicated. This is exactly why the potlach had to be banned. When European fur-traders and colonials first arrived on the west coast of Canada NWCNT culture was as oppressive and cruel as any other culture that has developed in human history. It was a suppressive aristocratic slave culture. 

Many cultural institutions of NWCNT were designed for the purpose of maintaining a rigid hierarchy that benefitted a small elite class. Instead of creating a culture that could reach beyond the primitive and invent things like wheels, the preoccupation of NWCNT culture was to perpetuate a social framework where tribe members and slaves lived in perpetual debt to a ruling elite of hereditary aristocrats. It has been well documented that most NWCNT practiced slavery, predatory warfare, human sacrifice (especially of slaves), and even cannibalism. These practices were intertwined into the total institution that was the potlach. Of course, NWCNT culture was not without its good points, some potlaches must have been fun, starvation was uncommon, their artwork is pretty good for a primitive people, but to say that they lived in a just society that was as equitable as Western society is ridiculous. 

Sanitized version of Potlatch taught to EuroCanadian students

In today’s discourse the Potlach among the NWCNT is seen as a big fun festival of sharing, perfectly exemplifying the non-materialistic culture of native peoples. Capitalism is bad because people own things and don’t share, potlach is good because people give things away. However, this an incorrect interpretation. When the native host puts on a potlach the purpose is to increase prestige and make community members indebted to him. One cannot choose to opt out of the potlach system, the logic of the potlach is forced upon the community and all its members. Potlach gifts cannot be refused. For example, if a chief puts on a potlach and they give more than the recipients can take, the recipients are still considered indebted to amount they were given. So if the chief of a rival community gives 10,000 pounds of flour to another chief’s community during a potlach, if the recipient chief cannot take it home or store the flour, the flour is destroyed by fire or dumped in the sea. It is not considered a waste because the giving chief has gained prestige for later use. The prestige can be used to take ownership over hunting grounds, fishing waters and so on. Prestige was the equivalent of money in NWCNT culture, it could be used to assert one’s right to lands, materials and services. Instead of the medium of paper money and coins, the NWCNT used songs as a medium for keeping inventory of debts owed and prestige earned.

So when looking at the potlach objectively, it is easy to see that it was crafted to maintain the power of the ruling class. The hereditary aristocrats of the NWCNT used slaves, commoners and warriors, that they controlled through prestige gained via potlaching, to amass an excess of material goods and slaves, then forced the excess goods on other tribe members to gain prestige, which was converted into special rights and privileges that were then used to acquire an excess of material goods and slaves. It was designed to limit social mobility. By being able to force other tribe members to take on a debt without the possibility of refusal, powerful tribe members were able generate an almost perpetual economic excess for themselves, while keeping less powerful tribe members in a state of almost perpetual debt. This is not to say that there was no social mobility at all, but it was obviously quite limited. This point is also supported by modern NWCNT hereditary chiefs who say their claims to tribal leadership go back to time immemorial. The social hierarchy of pre-colonial NWCNT culture must have been very static for such claims to be true.

This static hierarchy was taken advantage of by the ruling aristocracy to create a situation where all their whims were met. There was no place in their culture for non-aristocratic natives to air grievances or create social change because slaves and commoners lived in perpetual debt to the aristocracy. Western society also functioned like this in our ancient past, but thanks to our developing a linear ontology we were able to create innovations that led to dramatic upheaval and social change from time to time. For their part, NWCNT social structure was built to nullify innovation. This is exemplified in potlach destruction rituals: excess was destroyed for prestige if it could not be consumed. Rather than problem solve and find new methods of preservation or explore for new markets, the NWCNT aristocracy were satisfied with destroying excess in exchange for prestige because it benefitted them.

As noted earlier, many folks today suggest that the potlach should replace capitalism as an economic model. Why do so many people think that we should adopt the economic model of some primitive tribes that practiced human sacrifice, cannibalism, and slavery? Because the real history of the potlach ceremonies that were practiced by the NWCNT are suppressed in mainstream academia. It is well documented that slave-trading was an entrenched cultural institution among the NWCNT, and that they gave away slaves as potlach gifts. If one reads a history book publish before the 1990s it was common to bring up these facts. Nowadays, the current convention among contemporary scholars regarding the unedifying aspects of early colonial Canadian native history is don’t bring it up, and if you must address it, just dismiss the evidence as a result of ethnocentrism. So scholars writing on the subject are not allowed to bring these facts to light anymore. There is some money to be made praising the potlach, while only scorn is given for criticizing it.

Early Canadian Perspectives

A perspective that is missing from the current flawed discourse on the banning of the potlach is that of the brave fur-traders, colonials and pioneers that had to share space with the newly discovered native tribes they encountered. Today’s academics are so far removed from our glorious colonial heritage that they could never allow themselves to imagine what it must have been like for the brave souls that left their families behind to live among a strange culture that practiced pagan sorcery and human sacrifice. Colonials were all too aware of the undeniable historical fact that native tribes would sometimes raid fur-trade forts and settlements if they felt cheated, insulted or were desperate for alcohol.

In most native related history scholarship, the fashion is to dismiss the historical views and information that our ancestors supplied if they run counter to the current noble victim narrative. They do not have to put much work into it either. Oftentimes if a contemporary academic must address an unwanted historically documented fact, they just say the source was lying or incorrect due to ethnocentrism. While the men and women who pioneered this country surely weren’t perfect, it strikes me as odd how often academics just seem to assume they lied so often. Most people in the early stages of Canada lived modest lives, worked in the bush and farmed, what do these academics think that early Canadians had to gain by fibbing about the strange ways of pre-colonial Canadian natives? No, early Canadians were overall a very honest sober people of Victorian ethic. Academics all too often portray early Canadian historical sources as simple-minded bigoted opportunist who just wanted to make natives look bad. Clearly, these academics have a low opinion of our Canadian ancestors. The arrogance is appalling. I wonder how these dismissive academics would fare during the hardships of settling early Canada?

Ukrainian family working the land to make a living without any government assistance. Overpaid academics with a 15 hour work week have criminalized these families as “thieves” who “stole their wealth from natives”.

Having some empathy for early colonials in Canada allows us to evaluate overlooked facts of the early colonial period on the northwest coast like how the Crown officials gave a tremendous amount of aid to the NWCNT during their catastrophic struggles with smallpox. There were instances of crown-supplied aid being destroyed in potlaches on the coast.

Imagine how early colonialist, many barely fed themselves, felt watching food stuffs and other aid items that had to be brought in by ship at great cost, being thrown into the water by a rich chief so he can gain more power for himself and his family while many of his people are wasting away from the ravages of smallpox? It must have been stupefying to the rational, pragmatic sensibilities of early colonials. It must have been so frustrating to administer a strange new people whose core rituals were exacerbating the tremendous problems they were facing at the time.

Perpetuating the Narrative

Christopher Bracken’s The Potlach Papers is a prime example of how contemporary academia is complicit in perpetuating the view that banning the potlach was an evil colonialist action. The thesis of the book is that early northwest coast colonialist felt insecure about themselves while living amongst the natives. This feeling of insecurity led the early colonialist engage in the process of “othering” the natives by obsessing over how different they were. Eventually this “obsession with othering the natives” resulted in colonial administrators writing letters to their superiors recommending that the potlach ceremony be outlawed because it was so unsavoury and it retarded the native’s conversion to becoming civilized people. The basis of the book is Bracken selectively “deconstructing” administrative letters between colonial officials to prove that racist, insecure Europeans unjustifiably outlawed the potlach because it made them feel uncomfortable about themselves. Pretty typical Cultural Marxist scholarship, applying Derrida’s deconstruction babble to belittle and question the achievements of our ancestors. 

What is interesting about the book it that it plays itself off as deep analysis of the banning of the potlach, but side-steps the fact that slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism were integral parts of NWCNT culture, and that the potlach perpetuated those depraved cultural institutions. Bracken’s selective analysis of a period of early Canadian history exemplifies the approach that is common with most works that deal with the potlach, and native history in Canada generally, published over the last thirty years. An accurate portrayal of Bracken’s subject matter would have brought up too many facts that bring into question the portrayal of natives in Canada as noble victims that has been so carefully crafted over the years, a portrayal that his argument depends on. So, he side-steps and dismisses uncomfortable truths that run counter to the narrative he is working within, knowing that his research and sources will never have to bear any real scrutiny because he views are sanctioned by the progressive academic Stasi.

Taking an honest look at the NWCNT potlach ritual raises valid questions about the present discourse on the potlach ban that took place in early western Canada. What was so evil about banning a ritual which helped to uphold a social structure that institutionalized slavery, cannibalism, human sacrifice and many other abhorrent practices? Why would anyone be better off if early Canadians chose not to interfere with any NWCNT practices? Could the fact that so many NWCNT enthusiastically converted to Christianity be evidence that many of them welcomed an alternative social order that freed them from the oppressive aristocratic hierarchy of the NWCNT? Why are we not allowed to ask these perfectly legitimate questions?

Changing our Mythos

The cultural Marxist project of creating the mainstream sentiment that banning of the NWCNT potlach ritual was an act of evil is part of the larger goal of changing Canada’s creation mythology. The goal is to change Canada’s creation story from one of brave explorers, new lands and hardy settlers, to one of Original Sin. The creation of Canada was a sin for which all EuroCanadians must repent and pay alms. An honest view of Canada does not support their new creation myth. But intellectual honesty has nothing to do with their strategies. Much like the residential schools scam, they use academic suppression of dissenting opinions and facts, cherry-picking of historical data to create false narratives, and anti-EuroCanadian racial canards to influence politics and control the discourse on what kind of country Canada is. EuroCanadians separated from their role as builders of Canada become mere land thieves.

Adele Perry, former president of the Canadian Historical Association, condemned Duchesne’s Canada in Decay for portraying White settlers as “hardworking farmers”. Perry has collected many lucrative grants claiming she is “indigenous” because she wears braids.

Ricardo Duchesne’s Canada in Decay has an excellent section, “The Straussian Assault on the West,” that illustrates how this process plays out by explaining how the neoconservative philosophy of Leo Strauss is employed by academics like Janet Azjenstat to purport the view that Canada was never meant to be conceived as a nation in the British/French tradition but rather a “Lockean” individualist civic nation separated from any form of ethnic identity. (I wonder why the original Canadian flag had symbols of Britain on it then?). Paradoxically, while Straussians are neoconservative in outlook, their work is a branch of cultural Marxism in that the main goal of their work is to argue that freedom means liberation from all identities not chosen by the individual. Academic native activism seems like it would be at odds with Straussian neoconservatism, but they are allies in separating EuroCanadians from their claims to their country and their heritage. They both understand that using their control of academia to change Canada’s creation mythos helps them reach this goal.

They have achieved their goals for now, but by doing our research and poking holes in their flimsy arguments we can work towards providing a much more honest view of Canadian history that allows our country to reclaim its glorious creation story of bravery, exploration and pioneering. I think it would be good if awakened EuroCanadians started their own school of Canadian history that boldly defends our ancestors in an honest fashion. People will scorn it for a period, but after awhile they will become so bored with their bloated watered-down version of Canadian history that they will be drawn to the much more interesting real version we will create. This article is much more interesting than most Canadian history written in the last thirty years, and I’m just a middle-aged dad who spent some spare time putting an article together, imagine what a smart young person with an academic grant could do! The information is out there. Building our own school of Canadian history is an important part of the intellectual infrastructure that must be constructed if we as white EuroCanadians are going to move forward as the anti-white Rainbow agenda continues its assault on our country.

Bibliographic Notes

1. Aaron Glass, “Review of Donald Leland’s Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America” American Indian Quarterly (Vol. 23, No. 3/4, 1999.

A classic example of how well-researched academic work is dismissed when it goes against the narrative. The reviewer calls in to question the legitimacy of Dr. Donald’s findings because of his research methodology. The reviewer then vaguely suggests a few trendy alternative methodologies that are used to create native-activist biased findings without explaining how it would improve Dr. Donald’s work.

2. Donald Mitchel “Predatory Warfare, Social Status, and the North Pacific Slave TradeEthnology (Vol.23, No. 1, 1984).

Documented evidence that all NWCNT engaged in predatory warfare for the procurement of slaves. In NWCNT culture slaves were seen as just another material good. Boas documented in 1892 that a slave was worth 10-20 blankets among the Bella Coola Indians40. Slaves captured through warfare were often given away during potlaches. First-hand accounts of these practices go back as far 1832 (43)

3.  T.K McIlwraith, The Bella Coola Indians (University of Toronto Press, 1943).

McIlwraith lived among the Bella Coola Indians between 1923-26. He wrote a very thick and empathetic ethnography on the NWCNT Bella Coola. According to his work, even in the 1920s the tribe still practiced slavery although in McIlwraith words “…The life of a slave is not particularly onerous, though it depended entirely on the will of their masters.” I guess that depends on your perspective on the fact that slave owners had full sexual rights over their slaves or that it was acceptable for a man to sell his wife as slave as McIlwraith observed among the tribe. While McIlwraith’s treatment of the tribe is sympathetic it is also truthful and full of many facts that belie the noble savage narrative.

4. John Rodgers Jewitt, White Slaves of the Nootka: Narratives of the Adventures and Sufferings of John Hewitt While a Captive of the Nootka Indians of Vancouver Island 1803-05 (Surrey, B.C. : Heritage House, 1987).

Some scholars contend that slavery among the NWCNT was a brief phenomenon brought on by instability brought on by the newfound wealth of the fur-trade. The information in this account indicate that slavery was firmly established in NWCNT culture well before the fur trade developed on the northwest coast.

5. William Christie MacLeod, “Mortuary and Sacrificial Anthropophy of the North West Coast of North America and Its Culture Historical Sources“. Journal de la societe des americanistes (1933)

MacLeod’s articles focuses mostly on the funeral rites and cannibal dances of Kwakiutl tribe of what is now northern Vancouver Island, but also notes that most other NWCNT had similar practices. McLeod’s article is based on the finding of various ethnographers and historical accounts. Much of his findings come from the work of proto cultural-Marxist Franz Boas, who was very sympathetic towards the NWCNT and revered their culture. Boas had no reason to embellish the practices of NWCNT and himself documented slavery, human sacrifice and cannibalism. His work corroborates with other early NWCNT ethnographers that documented similar practices. So the establishment view that most, if not all, early documentation of the grisly practices were liars or misinformed doesn’t hold water.

Basically, there was a “secret society” called the Hamasta among the Kwakiutl who had the “right” to engage in cannibalism. Through the course of performing elaborate primitive dances the Hamasta would either eat the remains of deceased partially mummified tribe members or they would sacrifice a slave and eat the corpse raw.

“…there is one account where an enemy who had the cannibal dance privilege was slain in war by another; the killer by such killing acquires the dance rites of his victim; the killer now possessed of the cannibal rite gave the cannibal cry. A female slave was killed for him and he ate the whole body himself.” (342)

6. Leland Donald, Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America (University of California Press, 1997).

Best book ever written on the NWCNT institutional slavery.

7. Christopher Bracken, The Potlach Papers: A Colonial Case History (University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Please follow and like us: