Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America
Author(s): Leland Donald
Synopsis: With his investigation into slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America, Leland Donald makes a significant contribution to our understanding of these aboriginal cultures. He describes the condition and characteristics of the slaves and shows that Northwest Coast servitude, relatively neglected by researchers in the past, fits an appropriate cross-cultural definition of slavery, and he argues that slaves and slavery were central to these hunting-fishing-gathering societies.
Slaves were an important to the Northwest Coast economies for their labor and for their value as major items of exchange. Although these were small-scale societies, lacking complex political institutions, the richness and complexity of their cultural systems has been well documented. Donald fins that slavery played a major role in more famous and frequently analyzed Northwest Coast cultural forms such as the potlatch and the spectacular art style and ritual systems that were a primary part of elite activity. Slavery, he says not only supported but made possible the elaborate ranking and stratification system and allowed the elite of each community to participate in inter-community elite activities as well as to dominate in their home communities.