Skip to content

Secrecy in Salish Rituals

A former UCFV student of mine, Jamie H., alerted me to a Washington Post story from April 8, 2005. In it, the secrecy surrounding Salish Spirit Dancing practices is questioned in light of a recent death during the rituals. Despite the exoticized language, the article provides some commentary from native leaders in the affected or neighbouring communities and a couple of sides of the issue are described.

What interests me is the debate within the broader Salish community between those who want to keep the rituals secret and those who would prefer more openness in the practices. Here’s a quotation from the article:

The uproar over their deaths has worried some native elders. In the public outcry from beyond their reservations, they hear an echo of the past, when the secretive Spirit Dance was outlawed in a prolonged wave of anti-Indian hysteria from 1884 to 1951.

“Every time the white man shows up, we lose something more,” said an aunt of [the woman who died], who like many people interviewed here spoke on condition of not being named. “We keep this secret because we are afraid of losing everything we have.”

My Master’s thesis at the University of British Columbia discussed the tensions between public and private presentations of Stó:lō culture (Fraser Valley, southwestern British Columbia), including the differences between participation and participants in spirit dancing and powwowing. That analysis was later published; see, McIlwraith, Thomas. 1996. The Problem of Imported Culture: The Construction of Contemporary Stó:lō Identity. American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 20(4):41-70.

Sphere: Related Content

One Comment

  1. jen wrote:

    I find this very interesting. I was not aware that deaths have happend in rituals such as the one mentioned. The comment made by the aunt is understandable but I suppose being in the 21st century we have to take things like deaths in rituals and such more seriously. However I’m dissapointed to think that such a gap is between the “white” person and natives.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005 at 5:48 pm | Permalink