After covering a considerable quantity of kilometers over the last couple days of cruising, it was a cheerful change of pace to sleep in this morning. After enjoying coffee and a newspaper, Captain Rich and First Mate Jordan took advantage of the marina’s convenient in-berth fueling system and got to work refueling the boats. Naturalist Greg and the crews of Anamcara, Hele Mai, and Patos hopped aboard the ferry for the short trip over to Cormorant Island and the historic village of Alert Bay, home of the Nisga’a people and the famous U’mista Cultural Center.
The cultural center houses an impressive collection of carvings, weavings, artifacts, as well as contemporary work by native artists. Much of the collection is related to the Potlatch tradition, an ancient and culturally vital practice held to commemorate important events and characterized by the host giving away enormous quantities of gifts. Often held during the long dark nights of winter, potlatches were essential venues for sharing dances, telling stories, singing, spiritual practices, and more. Seen as “dangerously unchristian” by the nascent Canadian government, the practice was outlawed in the early 1900s, which in part precipitated a tragic decline in the native languages and traditions. Many of the exquisitely carved masks and costumes which formed the center of many of the ceremonies we snatched up by museums across the world.
The U’mista Cultural Center has been very active in helping those artifacts come home, and displays many of them within their proper contexts. Even despite a sudden electrical power outage, we were able to spend a good amount of time learning about this fascinating history and art. Alert Bay also boasts the worlds tallest totem pole, which stands outside the Big House, a modern cedar longhouse that serves as an event center for the community.
Bald Eagles soared overhead as we walked back towards downtown, stopping now and again to sample the blackberries which profligate along the roadsides. Catching the ferry back in to town, we stocked up on groceries and passed another languid evening in Port McNeill as we prepared to explore the Broughton Islands tomorrow. We also had a couple departures today, as Keith and Dan left Koa Lanai and Yvonne and David left Patos behind. We had a great time cruising with you!