The Lalakenis Feast, 15 January 2016
Before the Lalakenis Feast, I had heard some people refer to it as a potlatch. “Potlatch” is a chinook jargon word, which is used to describe a ceremony where gifts are given. Yet it means something very different depending on where you come from. A Kwakwaka’wakw potlatch follows a strict set of protocols. Every person who attends one must be aware of, and respect the protocol and usually the only people who may attend the potlatch are those who are invited, and most are from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribes. Songs and dances can only be sung and danced by the families who have the hereditary right to them, or whom have been granted permission to use them.
The Lalakenis Feast was not a potlatch and was never called one by the hosts. Yet, there were many elements of a potlatch in it. Initially I felt concern that some Kwakwaka’wakw protocols were being broken. For example, in Kwakwaka’wakw culture it is common for someone to pass on their Kwakwaka’wakw name to a baby, but this is done so with much deliberation and consideration, because the name that goes to that child is their responsibility. Yet at the feast many children were given names, without knowing the child. Another example is that on the tentative schedule that we were sent before the feast the “hamatsa dancers” were listed. This concerned me because the hamatsa ceremony happens during the Tseka ( or Cedarbark ceremony) part of the potlatch, this is considered a very spiritually charged part of the potlatch. This dance cannot be performed outside of the potlatch and should stay within the bighouse. However, the Hamatsa dancers were not part of the feast.
The event was in the AMS Student Nest not a bighouse. It was an open invitation event so many in attendance didn’t know Kwakwaka’wakw protocols. Moreover, Beau involved many other indigenous and non-indigenous ceremonies and presenters in the event. My initial concern about protocol is a result of growing up in a Kwakwaka’wakw community, and having these protocols instilled in me from a young age. Yet, when I moved passed my concern, I was very aware of the uplifting and healing nature of the event.
I moved to Vancouver from my small Kwakwaka’wakw community on northern Vancouver Island to study at UBC. In my two years here, It’s become apparent to me that there is a privileging of western knowledge over indigenous knowledge systems within the institution. Beau’s feast made space for our Kwakwaka’wakw knowledge systems as well as other indigenous ways of knowing. These ways of knowing value relationships, between each other and the natural world.
I think perhaps we need to consider that events that happen within our Indigenous communities for our communities specifically, will have a different set of protocols, or will negotiate protocols differently than an event that is for those from outside communities. So how do we negotiate this respectfully and without creating conflict?
For more information about the feast check out the presentation:
You can also read Eliana’s blog post on Beau Dick and the Lalakenis feast here: