Linda Neale's Blog

The Giveaway.

Linda Neale - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Recently we celebrated my husband Rod's 80th birthday with a barbecue and giveaway.  I've learned to love the giveaway as a way of saying "thank you" and showing appreciation for an achievement or honor. This ceremony demonstrates values that are 180 degrees from American ideals of individual achievement and consumerism.   Instead of individualism, the giveaway honors connection.  Rather than consumerism, the giveaway is  based on what appears to be an almost Buddhist-like philosophy of non-attachment. 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, many are familiar with the term potlatch, the Chinook Indian word for “give-away” or “gift.” The potlatch is a major giveaway ceremony that is practiced by Northwest coastal Indians. The intent of the potlatch is both to give thanks and also to redistribute wealth among the tribe. A potlatch ceremony is given to honor someone, to celebrate a first kill of game, or to show respect for a loved one who has passed on. Potlatches often last three or four days, and include much more than the giving away of physical objects. Food, ceremonial and social dancing, singing and visiting can all be a part of the potlatch ceremony. In some cases, peoples’ entire physical wealth is re-distributed, down to their clothing, their utensils, and their food.

I was in grade school when I first heard about the potlatch ceremony. I didn’t think that anyone, except a religious zealot, would ever give away all their possessions. Such behavior runs counter to the customs of our modern culture. Indeed, the potlatch so threatened nineteenth century missionaries and Indian agents that both the United States and Canada outlawed the practice. One missionary wrote in 1875 that the potlatch was “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized.”

Our giveaway was a great celebration of Rod's life and the life of our community.  In the last 10 years he's been hit by a car, bucked off a horse, had a knee replaced, and survived lymphoma and chemotherapy.  It hasn't been easy.  Without our community -- all the nurses and caring people and cooks and prayers -- I doubt that he would still be alive.  So we had a lot to be grateful for.   We gave away feathers, blankets, food, and ceremonial items that we'd had for a long time.  It wasn't a potlach -- we still have our clothes, car and home (and some other stuff) -- but it made us both happy to give away some of our best.

I highly recommend the giveaway as a way of honoring our connection to family and supporters.  Who knows, if more people practiced this ceremony, perhaps we'd better understand the truth of the Christian maxim "it is more blessed to give than receive."

Jana Shannon commented on 02-Aug-2011 10:49 AM
I was blessed the day I received your e-mail and I continue to be blessed by your ongoing wisdom.
Bob Petrovski commented on 02-Aug-2011 11:14 AM
Thank you Linda for reminding us of what is truly important and how grateful we should be for what we have, our health, our happiness, and our family. "Stuff" just doesn't make the short list. Mitakuye O'yasin.
Lionel Eagle commented on 15-Aug-2011 09:31 PM
An amazing day of honor and love. Thank you four times good sister for making this day happen. We are all blessed by our dear Uncles place with each of us, he has touched us all in a very special way and with that touch, we are blessed!
Joann Albrecht commented on 03-Oct-2011 11:40 AM
Something I've been doing intuitively for a long time; but recently started learning about giveaways. I did a giveaway at my birthday party in September including providing food, fun and community. Thank you for continuing to teach me in so many ways!

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