Leadership, Accomplishment and Cultural Celebration

The Potlatch "Give-Away"

Reciprocity in Wealth Sharing

6-cent Haida Ceremonial Canoe stamp
Four stamps in the Natural History series were issued in conjunction with The American Museum of Natural History’s 100th anniversary. One of the stamps depicts an enormous Haida ceremonial canoe, on display in the museum since 1883, with life-size figures representing a group of Chilkat Tlingit. Issued in New York, New York, May 6, 1970.

The communities of the North Pacific Coast have traditionally kept their economies in balance in the ceremony of the “potlatch” or give-away from a leader most able to share his wealth. Members of his community might arrive by water in their stately canoes for a feast and sharing of up to 10 days. The Haida canoe depicted was carved from a single red cedar tree. It celebrates Native navigation and extensive ceremonial visitation, a tradition that sustains to the present. This practice of the Potlatch was banned in 1884 by the Canadian government. Not to be deterred, today such potlatches have enjoyed a great resurgence, and in 2005, one Haida event in Coast Salish territory raised $5,000 for environmental education.

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Tlingit crest helmet crowned with cylinders thought to represent the number of potlatches hosted.
24/3378 Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.
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Tlingit eagle pipe bowl, 1840-1870, possibly made from the stock and barrel of a gun.
00/9247 Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.