The Importance of the Feast
For Canada’s First Nations and Aboriginal cultures, feasting is much more than a sharing of food and good company. Traditionally called a “potlatch”, it is a traditional gathering that was the primary means to bear witness, and confirming in public any changes in status such as marriages, birth, death, or coming of age.
Alice Barnes, who is hereditary Gitxsan chief and a tour guide at ‘Ksan Historical Village, – a museum and historical site in the Skeena River area – recently showed off a traditional feast house at ‘Ksan, and shared the importance of the feast with Joslin Fritz, Lady Sherpa blogger for Wanderlust and Lipstick.
She said when a particular Chief was hosting a feast; he would send scouts and runners out to deliver invitations to the celebration to other Chiefs in the surrounding areas. Each attending Chief would then send their own personal chair ahead of time, to be placed according to a specific rank and hierarchy.
Additional scouts would also be stationed throughout the territory to keep an eye out for war parties looking to crash the party or raid caches of food. With no windows in the feast house to see these potential dangers coming, the entrance of the venue was kept small, so visitors had to crawl in one at a time, thus preventing a raiding party from entering en masse.
Unfortunately, Canada’s federal government outlawed potlatches in 1884, but the ceremonies continued in many communities, and in 1951 the law was removed from the revised Indian Act. Today, potlatches are still a large part of Aboriginal heritage, and a tradition that is proudly kept alive by many First Nations cultures.
If you’re passing through the Hazelton area, make sure to stop by ‘Ksan Historical Village for a visit, and perhaps to share a feast.