By Alyssa Pember
The First Nations viewed giving as an honor and a way of life (Wells 1998). Whether the giving was in the form of words, prayers, energy, or love it was the matter of interconnectedness among the people of the communities (Wells 1998). If a material gift was given, the value of the physical object wasn’t the importance behind the giving, but rather the essence and the spirit of the gift. As well, there wasn’t an obligation or responsibility behind the giving but merely the importance of bringing the people together to give gifts to another and those people would then give a gift to someone else; it was circular giving. The circular giving of gifts was to keep the spirit of the gift alive throughout the community (Bowden, year unknown). Also, First Nation people owned nothing of their own; everything was shared among the community which again reinforces the sense of interconnectedness. It was a collective community; everybody works together and is on the same level.
Potlatch was a philanthropic tradition of the First Nations culture. It was a ceremony that brought people together to give gifts to someone else (Eiteljorg Museum 1992). To this day, this tradition is still a very common act in societies although it has been slightly modified. Neighbors, friends, colleagues, or families get together and everyone brings a different type of food to share. Instead of bringing gifts in the form of love, prayers, or energy, today we bring different foods to share among people. Another example of traditions that have been passed down by the First Nations is “Thanksgiving”. Giving thanks for the things you receive and are thankful for the things you have in life.
Furthermore, the First Nations didn’t focus their giving to only a certain grouping of people (i.e. the homeless, orphans, elderly, etc.) instead they gave on every level. This was important to the community because no one was segregated or given a title; everyone was equal and felt connected to the community. Everyone gave a gift to someone else and for the people who were less wealthy than others; they were able to feel a sense of importance and connectedness to their people.
Bowden, T. Maggie. Native American Philanthropy. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. http://learningtogive.org/papers/paper34.html
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art. “Guide Handbook, 1992-1993.” Indianapolis: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, 1991.
Wells, Ronald Austin. The Honor of Giving: Philanthropy in Native America. Indianapolis: Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, 1998. ISBN: 1-884354-15-7.