Chinook Navigation





"Klallam people at Port Townsend" by James Gilchrist Swan (1818-1900) - Public Domain image

Like most northwest coast tribes, the Chinook practiced the potlatch, a ceremony in which one family redistributed its wealth. In a potlatch, the host would demonstrate wealth and social status by giving away possessions, in some cases, all of the possessions owned by the host. The host of the potlatch could normally get many of their possessions back in future potlatches held by other families.

Potlatches were performed for many occasions including births, weddings, funerals, rites of passage, the building of a new clan house, and the honoring of the deceased. Potlatches usually involved great celebrations including extravagant feasts, music, dancing, and the honoring of spirits. Slaves, blankets, tools, carvings, weapons, and furs were among things normally given away at a potlatch. Families who gave away their possessions would gain social status. Most potlatches lasted between one and three days. Potlatches could become competitive, especially among rival groups.