Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
April 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia




Potlatch , the word used to denote the great winter ceremonials held among the Indian tribes of the north Pacific coast from Oregon to Alaska. The word has passed into popular speech from the Chinook jargon, into which it was adopted from the Nootka word for "giving" or "a gift". Although they varied in different localities, potlatches were mainly marked by the giving away of quantities of goods, frequently blankets. The giver sometimes went so far as to strip himself of nearly everything but his house; but he obtained his reward in the esteem of his fellows, and when others "potlatched", he received something back from them. The idea underlying the potlatch is that "it is more blessed to give than to receive". The potlatch was formerly accompanied by dancing, singing, and feasting, as well as by secret rites such as the raising of carved poles, the slitting of ears, noses, and lips for ornaments, and the tattooing of children. See W. M. Halliday, Potlatch and totem (London, 1935).

Source : W. Stewart Wallace, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. V, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 401p., p. 150.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College