..and a bit of justified defiance.

This is an extraordinary photograph taken on a warm summer day in 1907 on the Nisqualy delta. It shows the give away during a potlatch of Nisqually and Puyallup people. At the time, potlatches were marginally legal social practices that were outright illegal in some political juristictions and condemed as a pagan ceremony from many pulpits.
In the picture, the woman sitting at the table is sharing her wealth with a large assembly of family and neighbors. The standing man is distributing coins and cloth wrapped gifts according to the names being read and recorded by the men seated at the table. In the foreground are the gifts in folded cloths and baskets and in the background, under the shade of the trees, are the people who share her community and respect her act of generosity.
After the Canadian government criminalized potlatches at the end of the 19th Century, American policy toward native people in the Pacific Northwest followed with regulations against cultural give away gatherings, native language use and even home or public schooling for native children. By the time this picture was very privately made, folks were dressed in western style clothes, shaded themselves from the hot sun under smart umbrellas and kept time with fine gold watches. But my eye is drawn to the proud, dignified lady seated comfortably on a cushion in the lower right. She seems to be guarding tradition from behind a gaze that has seen history and found wisdom and she is certainly not shy about having her picture taken breaking somebody else’s law.Potlatch

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