The welcoming of Spring also became the welcoming of other villages visiting to celebrate Stebbins Potlatch. Potlatch is a series of Yup’ik songs, dance, rituals and most importantly, 1st Dance is considered a right of passage for many of the youth. While you can do first dance at any age, it is most common to the youth, around the age of 10, that represents them becoming a part of society, becoming an actual member of the community and culture.
We had 18 first dancers this year which I’ve been told is an insane amount of first dancers. The average is only 4-6. Potlatch is started off by a speech and prayer from an elder in the community, I couldn’t understand but was told it was mainly about thanking people for coming and being a part of their big celebration.
The festival goes on for 3 days. The first night was very long because each dancer is introduced by their elder family members, then they pass out gifts. I was told they have 1 gift for each first dancer per every elder, but trust me, there was a lot of gifts!! These gifts can range from small things such as cupcakes, candy, or trinkets to larger things such as boots, furs, and gear. Not only elders get gifts but almost everyone at Potlatch walks away with something, the elders receiving the bigger items. The dancer themselves do not pass out every gift but instead they stand presenting the gifts and their family members pass out the gifts. Before anything is given away though every single gift must touch the first dancer as a blessing and to represent the gift coming from them.
After the gifts a first dancer dances, doing their specific song, after a few minutes of dancing alone, the family members will join in with the first dancer. With 18 first dancers, this took a very long time. Starting at 6pm and not ending till 2-3am. The second night the first dancers dance again but with out the gift giving or presentations. Then the third day/night is just a free for all and everyone that has ever danced before is welcome to dance, it’s kind of a going away party. The second and third night is a lot of fun because they traditionally have more fun with the dances and get comical in their routines.
Hope you enjoy! ~ Mellisa