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Native Americans have lived in Alaska for thousands
of years. Many have practiced an interesting tradition
called Potlatch. In a locally acceptable time frame, a
man was socially required to hold a potlatch (party)
for friends and family. At that event he would provide a
feast and give away possessions.
The man’s standing in the community was not
measured by the wealth he possessed but by the value
of what he gave away. The people attending the
potlatch were in turn socially obligated to pass on what
they received within a reasonable period.
Native people in that area who hunted, fished and
gathered wild produce didn’t accumulate decorative
items or overstuffed furniture from Sears and Macy’s.
Things of real value would have been hand made and
practical for needs at the summer camping ground or
when surviving winter. Giving them away at potlatch
would show real courage.
Small groups of people include all the same types you
find anywhere. A constantly changing mix of energetic,
lazy, young, old, sick, healthy, friendly or antisocial. Most
honest but some not. Whether our group is two hundred
or two hundred million the basics are the same. The way
we are currently conducting ourselves determines our
The messages I get from the Potlatch tradition are:
1. Possessions are not as valuable as character and
2. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.
Now where have I heard that before?
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