Potlach History

The first known Potlach among the Quinault was around 1800. Coastal villages were invited to Quinault; from as far away as Vancouver Island and southern Oregon. Once visitors arrived by canoe people gathered to greet them, canoe families sang as they arrived and were welcomed ashore. Canoe families then were taken in and cared for. Celebration began in Potlach where canoe families shared song and dance, feasted, and hosting nation gave gifts to visiting nations. The host challenged visiting nations to return a Potlatch. It is a known that a potlatch is a highly complex event where people gather in order to commemorate a specific event (such as the raising of a Totem pole or the appointment/election of a new chief). These potlatches would usually be held in competition with one another, providing a forum to display wealth within a tribe.

In the Potlatch ceremony the chief would give highly elaborate gifts to visiting peoples in order to show wealth, by accepting these gifts the visitors conveyed their approval. There were also great feasts. Dancers and singers shared song and dance of their families.. These dancers were many times members of secret "dancing societies". Watching these performances was considered an honor. Historically Potlatches were held for several reasons: the confirmation of a new chief; coming of age; the funeral of a chief; battle victory, and other life changing events.

Today Coastal Nations celebrate Potlach during Canoe Journey annually; and on a smaller scale within families and nations throughout the year for naming ceremony, confirmation of a new hereditary chief, and coming of age. The continuation and growth of the Quinault culture and traditions serves as a testament to the courage, strength, dedication, commitment, and the spirit of our Ancestors. Quinault Nation honors our Ancestors and Warriors as we work together to create a legacy for future generations.

 

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