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Photograph of a group of West Coast Native people wearing ceremonial raven masks and robes
Map entitled "Map showing the distribution of the Indian Tribes of British Columbia," published in 1884
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On July 7, 1883, Governor General Lorne (1845-1914) approved an order-in-council recommending the suppression of the potlatch custom practiced by the Native peoples of the northwest coast of British Columbia. Two years later, the potlatch was declared illegal, and the prohibition remained in force until 1951. The custom at issue involved an elaborate demonstration of social status through dance, oratory and the distribution of gifts. As the 1883 order-in-council by Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) records, Indian agents and Christian missionaries equated the custom with a range of vices. However, the objection was ultimately rooted in the Euro-Canadian notion of cultural progress, which opposed the uninhibited distribution of material wealth. Macdonald accepted the view that, "It is not possible that Indians can acquire property or can become industrious with any good result while under the influence of this mania". During the decades of official suppression, the potlatch continued to be practiced, either in secret or in a form that adapted traditional customs to the letter -- if not the spirit -- of the law.