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Steltzer, Ulli.

Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, c1984. 81pp, cloth, $16.95, ISBN 0-88894-438-1. CIP

Grades 6 and up
Reviewed by Grace E. Funk

Volume 13 Number 3
1985 May

In 1981, Robert Davidson, Haida Artist, had a potlatch for four hundred people in a school auditorium in Massett. Ulli Steltzer photographed the events, at his request. Later she interviewed Robert Davidson and the many others involved, reviewed videotapes of the speeches made, and wrote the book. Thus two well-known artists have combined to make an unusual package.

Ulli Steltzer is a photographer whose concern is people. Her work has been called "intimately revealing." The book tells the story of the potlatch. First the preparations: gathering traditional foods; making drums, spruce root hats, and other special gifts; making button blankets for the dancers, and practicing the dances. Then the visitors, and the events of two long evenings of speeches, songs, and dances. The photographs are set next to relevant quoted words of the participants, often of the people actually in the photographs. The result is a real sense of sharing in the thanksgiving.

The potlatch served to mark the adoption by Robert Davidson of Joe David as his brother. At the same time, he invited the whole village to use the occasion for a public name-giving. Names are the cement that holds Haida society together. Because the potlatches were forbidden, a whole generation of Haida grew up without their rightful, publicly witnessed names. Some of the most touching pictures in the book are of elderly Haida giving Haida names to their children and grandchildren.

This is definitely not a book for children to learn about quaint customs of "Indians." It is a celebration of life and a culture becoming more vibrantly alive precisely through artists such as Robert Davidson and those he has helped and encouraged and through the dancers from K'san who brought soapberries to give at his potlatch. It is a book for all Canadians to share with Haida Canadians the rich meanings of the potlatch and something of what it means to be Haida.

Grace E. Funk, Harwood E.S., Vernon, B.C.
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