From the Duwamish Inn Brochure
For hundreds of years the Duwamish River has supported the people who have lived on her shores. Idyllic, with an abundance of fish, game, fowl and trees the region was once a vast trading network.
The Duwamish Inn, here at Duwamish Bay, boasts that it maintains traditional gatherings and customs that have strengthened a sense of community and belonging. Just one of our quirky rituals is to provide regular celebratory potlatches or gift-giving ceremonies for our guests. However, we have taken the liberty of providing a fresh approach to these time honoured events.
The potlatch was a gift-giving feast. It was sort of like Christmas, or a birthday party, but, instead of taking gifts to the party, guests who came to a potlatch received gifts from the host. Tribal chiefs of people, such as the Duwamish, gave potlatches to celebrate important events such as naming a child, a son's coming of age, or a successful hunt. Also, a marriage or completion of a new long house might be another reason. Potlatches were usually given in a large house built only for potlatches. Entire tribes were invited. They danced, sang and listened to speeches, held athletic contests to see who could run the fastest, climb the highest or jump the farthest. Tribes wrestled with each other and raced in canoes. They tested their strength to see who could keep going the longest and sometimes held contests to see who could eat the most. Big potlatches lasted three to five days. The big day was the last when gifts were given out.
Potlatches were important because a chief could show his wealth by the gifts he gave. To make his guests think he was of high social rank, he gave away the best of everything he owned. Gifts included canoes, blankets, furs, skins and food. A chief became especially important in the eyes of his guests if he gave strings of rare shells called "dentallium." These narrow shells were hard to find and were found only in the deep, cold waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Dentallium were valuable because of their scarcity. Sometimes they were used as money to buy things from other tribes.
Families in the villages on the Duwamish River worked closely with each other to help with the potlatch. They often gave their most valuable articles to the chief to make him appear wealthy to his guests. They did this in order to bring honor to their tribe. Even though a chief gave away everything they owned, they knew they would be repaid because there was a trick to the gift-giving! No guest at a potlatch could refuse the gifts offered him. An important guest had to give a potlatch in return to show how wealthy he was! To save "face," his potlatch had to be bigger and better that the one he attended. It was the goal of each chief to "out-do" the other.
Here at Duwamish Inn we have a contemporary version of the traditional potlatch. We cannot offer you a canoe, blankets or furs and we certainly don't encourage people to out-do one another but we regularly provide evenings where people bring along fine food in baskets to share with other guests.
We bar-b-que the Salmon in a traditional way and everyone brings something really delicious to share. Apart from bringing food guests bring ‘treasures’ to swap. During the evening people dance, sing, provide readings and share stories. We have a large basket that sits on the central table and participants are asked to select a song, story or dance to present to the group. A lot of the material comes from Livia Cotard’s bookshop on the Marina, a bookshop that attracts visitors from far and wide, but visitors can add stories of their own.
What will you swap? What stories will you have to offer?