David Boxley Tsimshian Northwest Coast Artist

Laverne Welcome Memorial Potlatch, Septmber 24, 2011

David Boxley celebrated and honored the life of his mother, Laverne Welcome, by hosting a Memorial Potlatch in his home village of Metlakatla, Alaska, one year following her passing, as is tradition.  David worked for a year planning, preparing and gathering the gifts for the payments, honoring gifts, and working with members of his clan and other friends to prepare for the event.

David’s goals in hosting this Potlatch were:  1) to honor my mother, 2) to raise my clan, the Eagle Clan and 3) to teach the young people, all people of our ways. “This Potlatch was a full day of celebrating our traditional ways and practicing our culture.  Potlatch and language makes us who we are – a unique and special people.”

Laverne Welcome, July 8, 1923 to September 20, 2010.  David Boxley “My mother was not a chief, she served her community for 25 years as the curator for the community museum.  She loved our village and was responsible for the inspiration to a yearly spring cleanup by the school.” 

The Potlatch:  is a Northwest Coast Native system of a notary public, to put it simply for important occasions and life passages.   Hosts invited guests to witness the events - and by witnessing and accepting the payments for witnessing from the hosts legitimize and make real the claims of the host.  The old days it would take years of making everything by hand of the initial announcement and the invitations would be sent and those guests knew that they had an important responsibility in that they were going to witness this important events in the lives of the hosts.  They also knew that the gifts that they would be receiving they would be receiving as witnesses that sometime in the future they would be obligated to invite  - repay the host down the line when they had an event that needed public witness.  Public witness, gifting of the witness and sumptuous feasts are a very important part of NW Coast traditional culture and represented the hub of the wheel that was their way of life.  Even in these modern times these basic rules are followed, even though the guests might be hosted by weeks at a time, maybe just a few days. 

For many tribes up and down the Northwest Coast new life has been breathed into this type of ceremonial gathering because in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the laws passed outlawed these activities of native people in attempts to assimilate them into non-native culture.  This came from both the governmental bodies at that time and churches and religious organizations that saw that these so called heathen activities were a hindrance to their goals to convert as many of the native population as possible. 

 

2011 Memorial Potlatch, Events Included:

Head Stone moving:
Is a tradition that has happened in British Columbia for many years, most likely replaced the totem pole raising and potlatch, because native people were being prosecuted for their practices this allowed them to honor their family and place.

This stone moving was the first ever ceremony held in Metlakatla, AK.  This was held to make a connection again with our people in BC but hopefully begin a precedent for people to carry on a practice in the future to honor their past family members with a small bit of native ceremony. 

The stone moving entailed the stone movers to be from the other clans, my mother was Eagle Clan – stone movers were members from the Raven, Killerwhale and Wolf Clans.

This continues the ceremonial connection between the clans and means more as they are not only witnesses but actual participants and would be compensated later that day for their efforts. 

 

Memorial Totem Pole:
David commissioned his oldest son, David Robert Boxley, who is an exceptional artist, to carve a 15 ft. totem pole to honor his grandmother.  Tradition would commission a member from an opposite clan to carve the Totem Pole, David R. is of the Wolf Clan.  The men selected to carry the pole were all from other clans and selected by David & David. 

 

 

totem totem totem
honoring honoring honoring
feasting feasting feasting

Potlatch Headstone Moving

Potlatch Memorial Totem Pole Raising

Potlatch Welcome & Gifting

Feasting, Witness Gifting and Dancing

The Git-Hoan Dancers

 

Welcoming, Gifting & Honoring, Namings & Adoptions
 The main idea throughout the potlatch was that anyone and everyone who did anything for David’s mother during her life and helping with her service – would be compensated and were gifted with exceptional art including large carved and painted Bentwood Boxes, Carved Panels, and many other carved art and other items.

David took this opportunity to honor  many people for their contributions to the Native Culture, including Arnold Booth, Tsimshian Elder; Robert Davidson, Nathan Jackson and others.

Other Potlatch business, as in tradition, included an adoption into the Eagle Clan and several Tsimshian names were taken.

 

Feasting, Witness Gifting and Dancing
In addition, following the tradition of our people, over 800 people by being present and witness to our cultural practice feasted and received witness gifts.   The day also included performances by seven Tsimshian dance groups and one Haida Presentation.

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