Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
September 2004

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





[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Potlatch. The great winter ceremonials among the tribes of the N. Pacific coast from Oregon to Alaska. The word has passed into popular speech along the N. W. coast from the Chinook jargon, into which it was adopted from the Nootka word patshatl , 'giving ,' or 'a gift.'


Although varying considerably in different parts of the coast, these potlatches were mainly marked, as the name implies, by the giving away of quantities of goods, commonly blankets. The giver sometimes went so far as to strip himself of nearly every possession except his house, but he obtained an abundant reward, in his own estimation, in the respect with which his fellow-townsmen afterward regarded him, and when others "potlatched" he, in turn, received a share of their property with interest, so that potentially he was richer than before, During the festival in which the gifts were made, houses and carved poles were raised, chiefs' children were initiated into the secret societies, their ears, noses, and lips were pierced for ornaments, and sales of copper plates, which figured prominently in the social and economic life of the people of this region, took place. Among the Haida, children were then tattooed. All was accompanied with dancing, singing, and feasting.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., p. 394.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College