History of Potlatch

Native American festivals and holidays are as richly diverse as their culture. Festivals can reveal a great deal about culture. A most interesting cultural festival, celebrated by most Pacific Northwest tribes, was the potlatch.  

A Potlatch is not just a party. A Potlatch is a magnificent and planned party. It's a really big deal. Planning for a potlatch might take an entire year, or even longer! Today, as in olden times, each person invited to a potlatch receives a present. This present can be as simple as a pencil or as complicated as a carving. At any particular potlatch, everyone receives the same present.

A Potlatch was (and still is!) a wonderful festival with weddings and stories (the tall tale type) and feasting and dancing and trading.

In olden times, potlatches were not only given only for big events. They were given for everything. If an important person fell off a canoe, a small but elegant and costly potlatch would be given to offset the humiliation of the fall. You could not be laughed at. You could not lose dignity. These were important beliefs in Native American culture. One way to regain or to establish dignity was to host a potlatch.