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Potlatch – Native Americans Had It All Figured Out Way Before Europeans Came Along

Watercolor by James G. Swan depicting the Klallam people of chief Chetzemoka at Port Townsend, with one of Chetzemoka's wives distributing potlatch.

From Wikipedia:

A potlatch is a festival ceremony practised by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast…The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning “to give away” or “a gift”. It is a vital part of indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest. It went through a history of rigorous ban by both the Canadian and United States’ federal governments, and has been the study of many anthropologists.

At potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family’s house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth.

Different events take place during a potlatch, like either singing and dances, sometimes with masks or regalia, such as Chilkat blankets, the barter of wealth through gifts, such as dried foods, sugar, flour, or other material things, and sometimes money. For many potlatches, spiritual ceremonies take place for different occasions…Typically the potlatching is practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends…Chief O’waxalagalis of the Kwagu’l describes the potlatch in his famous speech to anthropologist Franz Boas,

“We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, ‘Do as the Indian does?’ It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us.”

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One thought on “Potlatch – Native Americans Had It All Figured Out Way Before Europeans Came Along

  1. Pingback: Idea #2: Ithaca Free Store « Use this Idea!

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