Prohibitions

By Anna Hoefnagels

Through the course of Canadian history, Canadian governments imposed various prohibitions and regulations on the cultural expressions and traditions of Indigenous people. The most striking and relevant example is the banning of cultural practices through the Indian Act. First introduced in Canada in 1876, sections of the Indian Act prohibited the gatherings and celebrations at which Indigenous dancing was central. By 1884 the potlatch ceremony, integral to many Pacific Northwest Coast peoples could not legally be performed, which meant that the songs and dances that were part of this ceremony might not be used or heard. In 1885 the Indian Act was extended to allow the prohibition of the Sundance ceremony and its related music and dance for the Plains Nations. Many traditions and customs were suppressed through these bans, but despite this many persons attempted to keep the traditions alive, even though they faced fines and/or imprisonment if caught. It was not until 1951 that the Canadian government lifted the bans on these cultural celebrations and ceremonies, but by this time, some of the knowledge, music and dance that were integral to these celebrations had been forgotten. However, many First Peoples continue to revitalize and recreate their historic practices, and these celebrations, music and dance remain an important part of the lives of many Indigenous people.

©2019 This project was made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through Canadian Culture Online
Native Dance