The potlatch was a key Northwest ceremony that demonstrated a community's conception of wealth and society.
A potlatch was a gathering that coincided with an event such as the transfer of hereditary titles and rights, a death, the erection of a new house, or a marriage. The entire community was invited to a feast where they were seated and served according to rank. The person being honored then asserted his competency by demonstrating mastery of the mythical family history and rituals. Dramatic presentations or sporting events also were held.
Finally, the host gave away enormous amounts of property, demonstrating that he was so rich that he could afford to do without many of his possessions. The attendees were given gifts in order of rank.
Sometimes, a zealous host destroyed his property instead of bequeathing it. In such circumstances he killed his slaves, burned his house and large amounts of valuable fish oil. Potlatches embodied the societal consequences of redistributing wealth by reinforcing group identity and solidarity, providing a healthy outlet for competition and reaffirming social status.