Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Community and Change:
Aboriginal Social Clubs

A limited number of threads link together significant aboriginal cultural and political leaders with contemporary aboriginal organizations and clubs. These links provide a window on the emergence of urban aboriginal communities in which self-identifying traditionalists and “moderns” circulated. Key actors and groups involved in modern Indian art and cultural practices included those who lived in and/or migrated to and from the city. People joined together in Vancouver because of cultural connections and similarity between areas, including “the diffusion of culture by the mass media.” Links of kinship, friendship and community ties between artists and organizations created a context for the formation of social clubs, created and led by aboriginal people themselves.

Salish canoe races in North Vancouver

Salish canoe races in North Vancouver

Communities were formed in Vancouver on unstable ground, parallel to great socio-political change in which some political and cultural leaders crossed national and religious lines to achieve shared goals. For example, Catholic Coast Salish leader Andy Paull joined the predominantly Anglican Native Brotherhood in 1933. Paull, also an important sports figure in Vancouver, mentored Simon Baker, whose Coast Salish family created the Capilano Community club in the 1940s to honour the teachings of Mary Capilano. By 1958 the Club had grown from family gatherings to large sports and powwow events that boasted thousands of participants and spectators. Baker’s interests also included his membership in the Native Brotherhood, and the Vancouver Coqualeetza Fellowship Club, formed by residential school graduates with the support of Raley, their past principal. The membership was “non-sectarian and non-political” (Evans) and included in its mandate the aim to “gather and display items made by Native people of BC and America,” and to assist, support and provide a gathering place for newcomers to the city.

In 1953 the Coqualeetza club held their first exhibition of Native arts and crafts at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which included a cross-section of artists whose rich and multi-layered lives also involved serving as artist-educators, board-members and community and political leaders. These people created a living aboriginal public identity recognized as far away as Europe, as opposed to the archival, anthropological identity that was framed by museums. Examining the activities that took place in association the social clubs has the potential to unravel existing art histories that have focused solely on Indian art production in museums and galleries.

December 1931

The Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, a political organization, is formed at a December meeting at Port Simpson, with delegates from Masset, Hartley Bay, Kitkatla, Port Essington and Metlakatla. This fishing organization joined together political and cultural leaders, mostly from Northern and Coastal First Nations communities, "for the betterment of Native peoples."


The Knights of Columbus organization, with an established Indian Arts and Crafts committee, mount a display a the Hudson Bay Department Store in Vancouver to “assist in making a greater market for their wares, and help them to become more self-supporting.” (Leeuw 248).


The Pacific Coast Native Fisherman’s Association merges with the Native Brotherhood to address certain socio-political goals (Parker 46, 47). The merger drew together First Nations leaders of different interests and backgrounds, such as George Clutesi, Ellen Neel, Andy Paull, James Siwiid, Simon Baker, Henry Speck and Minnie Croft. Some of these people also were connected through two significant aboriginal social clubs in Vancouver: the Coqualeetza Club, which had its informal beginnings in 1950, and was incorporated in 1953 (Evans, 1961, 33, 35), and the Capilano Indian Community Club.

The Capilano Indian Culture Club grew out of the small family gatherings that the Capilanos had to remember their grandmother, Mary's teaching; it grew into a club that hosted track and field events and powwows: “'The Capilano Indian Community Club' began around 1942 … by 1952 we were getting really big and about fifteen hundred were there to watch the show" (Baker 111).


From 1946-1947 a Joint Senate/House committee holds hearings on the Indian Act, and recommends the establishment of an Indian Claims Commission to deal with Indian treaty claims. In 1951 the 1927 Indian Act amendment barring the pursuit of land claims (Section 141) will be removed, and the Potlatch Ban repealed.

The Native Voice newspaper, an initiative of the Native Brotherhood is created primarily as a response to the Special Joint Committee and publishes its first paper in December 1946. The Brotherhood intends the newspaper to be the means by which they “unite into one solid body the Natives of Canada by keeping them in touch with affairs related to our people”; it also includes a turn to educating sympathetic whites to put pressure on the government to change the Indian Act (Parker 85). The Native Voice publishes and widely distributes social and political material (provincially and internationally)—including many references to "Indian art" and individual aboriginal "Fine Arts" practitioners in Canada and the US. By 1947, artist and member of the Native Brotherhood, George Clutesi begins to contribute essays to the newspaper.

February 14, 1950

On February 14, 1950 a group of ex-students and teachers from the Coqualeetza Residential school held a party in Vancouver to honour Rev. Dr. G.H. Raley on his 87th birthday; he was a former principle of their school. Raley suggests they form an alumni group in Vancouver “for their mutual benefit and enjoyment.” The name Coqualeetza Alumni Association was established; the name of the organization was changed to the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club in 1953. As early as 1930 Reverend G.H. Raley who urged the establishment of an urban club expressed the notion that there should be follow up services for those Indians living in the city of Vancouver.


The Canadian Parliament finally repeals some provisions in the Indian Act, including those that made it a criminal offense to participate in a potlatch or land claims activities. Much of the Indian Act of 1876 was upheld in the revised Indian Act of 1951. Native people begin to overcome years of clandestine political and cultural meetings. Native cultural producers such as George Clutesi begin to reclaim what had been suppressed through contemporary writing and performance practices. However, in the Indian act of 1951, an "Indian" obtaining a University degree was still automatically "enfranchised," and thus lost his or her status as an "Indian" within the meaning of the Indian Act.


“The Capilano Indian Community Club began around 1942 … by 1952 we were getting really big and about fifteen hundred were there to watch the show. From the Capilanos, the five main performers were Dominic Charlie, Issac Jacob, Mathias Joe, and Dan Baker…and August Jack, who was Chief Kahtsaho (Baker 111). "I believe that the Capilano Indian community Club did a lot to gain respect from the white people. The mayors usually came for a while and other dignitaries. The newspapers sometimes covered our powwows." (Baker 112)


In 1953 the Coqualeetza Alumni Association changes its name to the Coqualeetza Friendship Club and formally becomes incorporated as a registered society. The Society was declared “non-sectarian and non-political," and became a significant influence on the social and cultural life of some Aboriginal people living in Vancouver. Number one in the by-laws was ‘An Arts and Crafts Committee, whose duty was gather and display items made by Native people of BC and America. “A number of ex-students had established such an organization at Skidegate on the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1927” (Evans 1961, 33). One of the board members, Minnie Croft, a Haida from Skidegate, would eventually own a couple of Indian arts and crafts shops in Vancouver.

June 1, 1954

The Coqualeetza Club holds an art display at the Vancouver Art Gallery, in July and August, with a committee led by Minnie Croft of Skidegate, Ella Gladstone, and Mrs. Hattie Ferguson. Artists included: C.H. Dudoward (Port Simpson), Mungo Martin (Victoria), Bill Reid (Vancouver), Nellie Jacobson (Ahousat), and Arthur Moody (Skidegate).

“Of course our Show would not be complete without a painting or two by Judith Morgan and Clutesi, the favored one who inherited the famous Emily Carr’s brushes, and Ellen Neel’s totems.” The exhibit also included displays from the Nanaimo Indian Hospital, Coqualeetza Sanitarium, and work from Findlay Forks (Yukon). (“Coqualeetza Group Hold Arts, Handicrafts Display.” Native Voice June 1954, p.3)


"For nearly twenty years, many of us worked to keep our culture alive through the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club, The Northwest Indian Cultural Association and the Capilano Indian Community Club. My idea was to promote our culture, our traditions, our songs. I wanted to teach our people so they could teach their children to know their identity their grassroots. I wanted people to have respect pride and confidence….It’s important for white people to come to our powwows and for us to go to their celebrations like the 24th of May parade. That way they can respect us and recognize us as neighbours. That we are not just Indians living on the reserve but that we could work together" (Baker 114).


First Nations "status Indians" given the right to vote in federal elections. Tribal Councils are formed for the first time throughout BC. The extension of the federal franchise to Natives in 1960, and of the provincial franchise to Natives in Alberta in 1965, and Québec in 1969 sparks renewed committment to redress and land claims. During most of the 1960’s Aboriginal children in BC were still being sent to Residential schools.

June 15, 1963

Over 2,000 people attend "Indian Day Pageant" held at the PNE grounds on June 15 and 16, 1963. The pagent is put on by the Northwest Indian Cultural Society (Mr. & Mrs. Simon Baker, convenors). Indian arts and crafts are dislayed at the event. "We want to put on the biggest Indian show that has ever been staged anywhere," said Society Chairman Simon Baker (Native Voice, May 1963, p.1)


When the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club first opened in 1954 it was located on West Broadway. Among the founding members were, Mabel Stanley, Hattie Ferguson, Mrs. Kelly, Alice Hamilton, Alfred Scow, Margaret White, Senator Guy Williams and Simon Baker. In 1963 The Coqualeetza Fellowship Club incorporated under the name of The Vancouver Indian Centre Society. It was the second Native club in Canada. The first such club was the North American Indian Club established in 1951 in Toronto.


Chief Saul Terry graduates with honours in sculpture from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr College of Art & Design) in 1968. At the invitation of Philip Paul, he went to Victoria in 1969-70 to become the first aboriginal art instructor hired by the Institute of Adult Studies (now Camosun College). Chief Saul Terry had attended the Kamloops Residential School as a youngster. He graduated from St. Ann's Academy, Kamloops in 1962.

In the late 1960, Philip Paul was organizing the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and George Manuel was beginning his work organizing the National Indian Brotherhood (forerunner of the Assembly of First Nations). Saul spent many evenings discussing the emergent Indian rights movement with Philip and George. In late 1970, Saul moved back home to Lillooet to work in the field of education for his people. (Union of BC Chief's website)

May 17, 1968

Aboriginal youth come into the urban area in ever increasing numbers. Many had been living away from family in Residential schools. They come for an education, training and employment. An art show is held at the Vancouver Indian Centre from May 17-19, 1968, organized by the Coqualeetza Council. Young artist Roy Hanuse wins first prize at the show and Robert Davidson also receives a prize (Native Voice, May/June 1968, 2).


The Nisga'a file a suit, known as the Calder case. The Nisga'a claim was rejected in the Supreme Court of BC and the BC Court of Appeals before being heard in the Supreme Court of Canada. Although a split occurred in the Supreme Court of Canada on whether or not title had been extinguished, six out seven judges agreed that aboriginal title existed in Canadian law and rules that the Nisga'a did hold title to their traditional lands before BC was created but accepts the province's argument that the Nisga’a had no claim to title because the Royal Proclamation of 1763 did not apply in British Columbia and had therefore not recognized Aboriginal title in the province.  The judge added that, even if title did exist, it had been extinguished implicitly by pre-1871 land legislation. The BC Court of Appeal unanimously upheld this ruling, commenting that at the time of white settlement, the Nisga’a were a primitive people with few institutions of civilized society and no notions of private property. The Court splits evenly on whether Nisga'a still have title. (_Calder et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia (1969), 8 Dominion Law Reports D.L.R. (3d)_, 59-83)

Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Indian Affairs Jean Cretien, issues the "White Paper", advocating policies that promote the assimilation of First Nations people. There is nation-wide political activity among Aboriginal organization and leaders to counter the "White Paper". The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs formed. In the same year the influential books, The Unjust Society and I Am An Indian are published.


By 1970 the important Vancouver Indian Centre Society (formerly Coqualeetza Fellowship Club) had outgrown its location on West Broadway and moves to 1855 Vine St; this site served the social needs of the urban Native Peoples of the City of Vancouver until 1979. Through a Demographic Survey of the City of Vancouver, it was determined that the main concentration of Native Peoples was between Cambie and Nanaimo Streets from 41st Avenue north to the waterfront, in total a population of forty to forty-five thousand. Armed with this information, the Directors of the Vancouver Indian Centre Society implemented a relocation plan and subsequently acquired the new location at 1607 East Hastings Street.