Potlatch at Gitsegukla: William Beynon’s 1945 Field by Margaret J. Anderson

By Margaret J. Anderson

William Beynon had an extended profession documenting the historical past and customs of the Tsmimshian, Nisga'a and Gitksan indigenous Canadian tribes. this article brings jointly his box notebooks written through the elevating of 5 totem poles at Gitsegukla in 1945.

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This is precisely the strategy that was followed by the "older thought" at Gitsegukla when they disagreed with the plans of the "younger thought" with regard to a modernized style for the pole-raising and concomitant ceremonies. They not only showed their disagreement by their silence, but two of them moved out of the community, which was correctly read by the "younger thought" as a strong and compelling message. The detail in which the 1945 events were documented in the four notebooks provides data that may extend academic understandings.

More aberrantly, a few have even attempted to claim crests from, or to become directly involved in, the business of their father's House without having been adopted at a feast, thus demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the system. We can see early expressions of the first type of misunderstanding in the events recorded in the Beynon Notebooks. For instance, the Gisgahest/Gispudwuda Houses that originated at Temlaxam share, as part of their ancient history, the Gauo and Local Winter at Temlaxam episodes.

IV, 1 5) Molxan's speech both affirms the rights that were displayed by Han'amux and subtly augments and amends the information provided in his speech by pointing out that many Houses share these histories, crests, and names (though she does not say whether the particular crest that Han'amux referred to as exclusive is among those shared by other groups). Since the management of this complex system of rights and privileges depends on its presentation to and validation by an informed public at feasts, the wide dispersal of people to urban centres makes it difficult for claims, often asserted outside the context of the feast system, to be addressed and corrected by elders.

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