The Potlatch Essay

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Major Project: The Potlatch

“The Potlatch” is a ceremonial feast or festival that is of utmost importance to the people of the Northwest Coast. It is where the people come together and engage in a sort of giving ceremony to either validate or advance individual tribal position or social status. These ceremonies can be compared to ceremonies in Western culture, such as the confirmation of an Italian-Canadian or Thanksgiving for an American family. Although, the ceremonies of “The Potlatch” demonstrate “the core Aboriginal value of generosity” ( Steckley 134), government agents and Christian missionaries from the West did not know what to make of them, during the 1860’s to 1880’s, as a result of there simulacrum of the potlatch the agents and the missionaries opposed the ceremonies and eventually banned them in 1884. When this happened in 1884 it caused a wave of ethnocentrism to pass through the northwest coast and caused the potlatch as we know it to become buried under and pile of western idealism. This is where the westerners went wrong and did not listen to the people at all; moreover, the suppression of the potlatch in Canada began and lasted over 66 years until 1951 when the ban was abolished.
The significance and nature of the “gift giving” ceremony in Northwest Coast potlatches has varied through time and across cultures.   It is frequently described as exceedingly competitive; however, the ceremony is nonetheless a means of exchanging goods for other goods. This is where government agents and Christian missionaries of the western culture opposed the ceremonies because they thought it was “foreign” and rather hostile.   Franz Boas, a social anthropologist,

choose to study about the potlatch, except his interpretation was incorrect because he did not study the story in depth; instead he distorted the potlatch by saying the potlatch was a way to gain wealth and power.   Boas claimed it was a way to “fight with their wealth” and it was a “destructive...

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