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Corrine Hunt, Marianne Lamonoca, and Aaron Glass.

On the weekend of July 20 and 21, I attended the opening events of The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, British Columbia. The exhibition, curated by Professor Aaron Glass and presented at Bard Graduate Center Gallery from February to July 2019, focuses on Franz Boas’s fieldwork among the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw of British Columbia and the collaboration with his Indigenous research partner, George Hunt.

Getting to Alert Bay required quite a bit of travel and it set the stage for a beautiful weekend. On the ferry from Port McNeill dolphins swam alongside and an eagle or two flew overhead. It was time to shed the hustle and bustle of New York City and enjoy some spectacular nature. Arriving at the port in Alert Bay travelers are greeted with a sign that reads, “Home of the Killer Whale.” Regrettably, I did not see any orcas during my stay. I did see a lovely village of mostly wooden structures, an intact burial ground with amazing totem poles, and a boat basin that has seen better days. Corrine Hunt, the great-granddaughter of George Hunt and a collaborator on the exhibition, told me on our walk along the shoreline that during her childhood fishing was the principal industry. When we arrived, Gwantilakw Cranmer-Hunt, who was among the community members who came to New York City to participate in our opening, was on the beach preparing a salmon for our meal later that evening!

On Saturday morning members of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw community welcomed guests in the ceremonial Big House to witness traditional music and dance. Audience members were invited to participate in the final dance, which I did, with bare feet. I wanted to gather some of the energy that the dancers had cultivated during their presentation and to prepare myself for the opening. Later the same day, Chief William Cranmer, along with members of his family, and U’mista Cultural Centre staff, including directors Sarah Holland and Juanita Johnson, welcomed everyone to the Centre. As it turned out, the film crew that I saw on the ferry crossing was on site to record two important community events: the exhibition opening honoring George Hunt’s legacy and the repatriation of a mask that the dealer (and donor to the exhibit tour) Donald Ellis gifted to the Centre. The ceremony took place in the gallery that houses the community’s Potlatch Collection. Among the works shown are extraordinary masks, rattles, regalia, and other pieces that were repatriated after the more than 60-year Canadian potlatch ban was lifted in 1951. Among those present were many Hunt family descendants, anthropologists Marie Mauzé from Paris and Karen Duffek from the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, graduate students Christopher T. Green and Jordan Wilson, artists and filmmakers Marian Penner Bancroft, Colin Browne, Marina Dodis, Sharon Grainger, members of Professor Glass’s family, and Anna Piva.

“Many people believe that a rich and powerful person is someone who has a lot. The people who speak Kwak´wala, the Kwakwaka‘wakw, believe that a rich and powerful person is someone who gives the most away. Since a time beyond memory, the Kwakwaka‘wakw have been hosting potlatches and potlatching continues to play a central and unifying role in community life today.”

The Story Box presentation at U’mista Cultural Centre retains all of the thematic content presented at Bard Graduate Center Gallery. While several objects were not able to travel to Alert Bay, additional works were added from the host collection. Artist Corrine Hunt’s graphic design enlivens the show, and the Whale Transformation Mask she created with Chief David Mungo Knox directly connects to the living community.The opening also marked the launch of The Story Box website. On Sunday, Professor Glass and Hunt led a tour through the show that was enriched by the contributions of Judith Berman and Rainer Hatoum, members of the Boas 1897 Critical Edition Project team, who also traveled to Alert Bay for this important occasion.

On the way back to Vancouver, Corrine Hunt invited us to join her in Fort Rupert. While there we visited David Knox in his studio carving masks for an upcoming potlatch ceremony and walked along the same shoreline as George Hunt and Franz Boas. I entered this story through Professor Glass’s teaching and the pages of Franz Boas’s 1897 book The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians. Today I have a great sense of pride that this truly special exhibition is on view through October in the place where Boas’s work began. And I know that Professor Glass and those of us that helped to create this exhibition feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to collaborate with U’mista Cultural Centre and the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw community. The trip to Alert Bay and Fort Rupert left me with a new understanding of the role that the Centre has played and continues to play in the community, and how important it is that we honor tradition and cultivate the work of Indigenous artists today.

— Marianne Lamonaca, Chief Curator / Associate Director of the Gallery