Friday, September 21, 2007

Potlatch Revival

Shell Buttons

This summer the Lummi celebrated their first tl’aneq’ or Potlatch since the 1937. The celebration marked the climax of an Intertribal canoe journey, Paddle to Lummi. Traditionally the potlatch served as a mechanism to redistribute wealth, establish alliances, and confirm status based on generosity. According to Cat Sieh of the Bellingham Herald, at this summer’s potlatch “Handmade gifts for thousands of attendees included 4,500 necklaces, 600 shawls, 100 drums, 100 cedar hats and 1,000 sewn wool crafts. Bags, pillows and cedar headbands were also handed out.” Many of the items were created by Lummi youth as a means to learn traditional art forms. The most extravagant gift was a hand-carved and painted totem pole and small canoe given to the Cowichan Nation, which will host the 2008 paddle (Intertribal canoe journey).

Europeans saw the potlatch at best as wasteful and unproductive and worse as satanic. Potlatches were outlawed by both Canada and the United States until the mid twentieth century.


  1. A Native American making a Totem Pole for the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles had acquired some carvings but could not use them without a Potlatch.

  2. Mark,

    Thank you for the comment. That is very interesting. There is so much about the social implications of the Potlatch that we Eruo-Americans have never understood and then the traditions vary from tribe to tribe. Of course the Potlatch was a real threat to capitalism. I think that is the real reason they were outlawed!

    Do you know what tribe the Native American making the totem pole is from?

    Sincerely, Peggy Sue