This past Saturday all of town was invited to attend a potlatch in honor of the passing of two local elders. The evening was filled with oral history, singing, drumming, dancing and eating. One of the Native dance groups that preformed was the Tsimshian Git Hoan (People of the Salmon,) led by David Boxley, a world renowned carver and “culture bearer” of the Tsimshian, originally from Metlakatla, Alaska.
Above are the crows who cawed and snapped their beaks in time with the drums. And below goose down floats from traditional head pieces of the chiefs, a statement of peace.
One theme that echoed throughout the night’s speakers was the importance of reclaiming cultural traditions, breathing life back into cultural practices that have been lost. For the Native groups of Southeast Alaska this includes once again holding potlatches, learning and using their languages, their songs & dances,and once again carving and erecting totem poles.
All of these activities were banned and outlawed in the late 1800’s by missionaries and government agents from the US & Britain, in an effort of forced cultural assimilation. This ban was only lifted in the 1950’s, leaving a multi-generational gap of cultural knowledge. It seems there is great effort in some native communities to revive and recreate these cultural practices.
I know so little about these historical events and cultural practices. I was intrigued to learn that a potlatch was/is a custom that was/is only practiced by the native groups of the Pacific Northwest, Coastal British Columbia & Southeast Alaska: The Tlingit, the Haida, the Tsimshian, the Nuxalk, the Makah, the Nuu-chah-nulth, the Kwakwaka’ wakw and the Coast Salish people. It is an event of immense meaning and importance, that I look forward to learning more about.
I hope you enjoy the pictures from their performance, I hope I have the chance to see them dance again.