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The Purpose of a Potlatch

There were different kinds of gatherings or celebrations that people referred to as potlatches. The main reason behind give away potlatches was like putting money in the bank. Whatever you gave away was usually returned to you with interest. For example, if you were a guest at a potlatch and were given five blankets and a canoe, the witnesses would record this in their minds. Whenever you held your potlatch you were obligated to return these gifts with interest. Maybe you would give ten blankets and two canoes to the person who honoured you at his potlatch.

The early missionaries and Indian Agents could not understand the potlatch or didn't witness the return of the investment made. They often described a potlatch as a party where the host gave away everything he owned. They lobbied the federal government to ban potlatches.

Funerals among the Stó:lō were not considered potlatches. Actually the opposite occurs. Instead of giving away a family receives. When a family has to put away a loved one, other families come and offer financial assistance. They will give money to help with the funeral expenses plus money for the grave stone.

As described by Grand Chief Richard Malloway (Yakweakwoose) to his son Chief Frank Malloway.

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