Anthropological Association hosts potlatch, replicates traditional community bonds

The Geneseo Anthropological Association hosted its fifth annual potlatch on Friday April 20 in the KnightSpot. The event provided a unique Native American cultural experience as well as the opportunity to benefit a local charity.

This potlatch celebration was meant to imitate traditional potlatch gatherings of indigenous peoples living on the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada and the United States.

According to Anthropological Association President junior Erin Steinwachs, the potlatch celebration “centers around the concept of the community coming together and pooling their resources to be redistributed.”

Potlatches are often hosted by a wealthier man in the village who gives away all of his resources to other community members in order to demonstrate local pride and prestige. Some items typically given away at a traditional potlatch include dried foods, cooking supplies and decorative blankets. They also feature performances of traditional dances and songs as well as a feast for guests to enjoy.

The Anthropological Association potlatch mimicked these traditional gatherings by offering various gifts to attendees, including a raffle of items such as stuffed animals, camping supplies, mugs and DVDs. Campus Auxiliary Services provided food for the customary potlatch “feast.”

One of the more distinctive aspects of this potlatch was the clothing drive and the exchange it incorporated. The association invited attendees to bring two items of clothing to the event and then allowed them take one item home. In the potlatch spirit of giving – potlatch means, “to give away” in Chinook Jargon – the Anthropological Association donated the remaining clothing to a new on-campus charitable organization, Geneseo Common Hope, for national distribution.

“[The Potlatch] not only gives people in the wider community new clothes, but it also gives the Geneseo community new clothes,” Steinwachs said.

Anthropology professors offered extra credit to students who attended the event and made an optional educational craft. Students colored traditional Native American art patterns and assembled them onto totem poles—one of the artistic traditions the natives of the Northwest Coast are known for.

According to Steinwachs, the Anthropological Association began organizing the potlatch at the beginning of spring semester. It is funded almost entirely by revenue from the organization’s annual Halloween pumpkin sale.

Junior Katie Braymer, an anthropology major, said she believes the potlatch is important because “it helps to raise awareness about Anthropological Association and widespread cultural diversity.”