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The intention of tradition : contemporary contexts and contests of the Kwakwaka’wakw Hamat’sa dance Glass, Aaron J.


This thesis explores the dialectical relationship between aboriginal and anthropological discourses of tradition and cultural performance. Specifically, I examine some ways in which concepts of tradition and culture are invoked in British Columbia's First Nations communities in order to negotiate, validate, and contest contemporary transformations to cultural practice. Two case studies of recent controversies within Kwakwaka'wakw communities are presented, one surrounding the bestowal of the Hamat'sa Dance on the pan-tribal American Indian Dance Theater for use in public presentations, the other involving the performance of the Hamat'sa— customarily a male prerogative— by women. This study addresses both local Kwakwaka'wakw dialogues about history and contemporary values, and the larger public, academic, and political environments in which those dialogues occur. This thesis takes as its broadest context these dialogues and shifts in the scale of identity and representation: between different native communities and different voices within them; between contests for local privilege and global control over "national" heritage; between indigenous peoples and the discipline of anthropology. I argue that tradition is best approached as a critical value emerging from these discourses, a concept which is intentionally used as a marker of present identity through strategic appeal to the past.

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