The Story of the Masks

The Story of the Masks

Sponsored by the Virtual Museum of Canada, The Story of the Masks is authored by the Kwakwaka’wakw people of the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. Identified collectively as the Kwawkewlths by Indian Affairs and as the Kwakiutl by anthropologists, the Kwakwaka’wakw people are comprised of distinct groups living in different locations, but who speak the Kwa„wala language.

Within this site, the role the masks played in Kwakwaka’wakw society is explored using the collection of masks on exhibit at the U’mista Cultural Center at the Nuyumbalees Museum in Alert Bay, British Columbia. Understanding the legend behind each type of masks and the ceremonies that they were a part of is a central theme that illuminates the significance of the masks to Kwakwaka’wakw communities and the preservation of their identity and heritage. The importance of the masks is reflected in how they are integrated into Potlatch ceremonies, a historical, social, economic, spiritual and educational pillar for Kwakwaka’wakw communities. Although the Canadian government’s attempts to undermine this ceremony, as it was viewed to be in opposition to assimilation policies, led to the Potlatch being outlawed in 1885, the Story of the Masks shares the Kwakwaka’wakw people’s continued story of cultural survival.


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