According to the Crees, the legendary Pak-ka-kos had a dual personality, a sort of “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” character. He could visit incredible bad luck on anyone who offended him, and almost as incredible good fortune on one who won his favour. Especially since he had control over game animals, it would be foolish to anger him, or even another Indian whom he was helping at the moment.
Because Pah-ka-kos could be so generous in his favours, the Crees gave away in his honour anything – and sometimes every thing – they had. There was a rather comical twist to their thinking which undoubtedly seemed quite rational to them. By giving away much, they hoped to get more in the return. If they didn’t succeed they seem, perversely, not to have blamed Pah-ka-kos, but some person who was stingy or malicious. Hence, a give-away dance could easily turn into a free-for-all. For this reason, these dances were eventually abolished in Saskatchewan.
A give-away dance was the scene of one of the more dramatic events in our local history as described with gusto [if not a lot of accuracy!] by Phillip Godsell in his book Arctic Trader, and reprinted inPeace River Chronicles.
In 1912 Chief Montagnais was host on the fields behind the Hudson Bay fort. A number of notable Indians were present: Attachie the hunter, Ah-clu-key, and Mi-he-gan, the Wolf. Also there was Andree, an important medicine man from Pouce Coupe.
The dance was preceded by the usual rodeo or horse races. Andree’s fine racehorse, a strawberry roan, was beaten by Attachie’s fine bay.
That evening at the height of the dance Andree went over to Attachie to “lead him out” with a crude drawing of a horse. Everyone knew what it meant. Attachie was “on the spot” if he accepted the challenge and equally so if he lost face by refusing. He accepted the offer, but chose to assume that it did not mean the racer. As if it were an ordinary Cayuse, he returned Andree’s gift with a rusted Winchester rifle. It was a put down for the medicine man.
Andree tried to dodge the issue by leaving the dance, swimming his horse across the river. Attachie had anticipated the get-away or some of his friends had done so. As the horse clambered ashore, two Fort St. John Beavers lasooed the animal.
Thus early, the traditional, and still evident, strained relations between the North side and the South sides of the “Peace River Block” were noted.
The Give-Away dance had an important aspect besides the fun – value. Hoarding was an offence in Indian economy. The give-away, like the potlatch at the Pacific Coast, was a means of leveling off wealth, with the same quite human ambition to get more than one gave. In a less obvious way than the stick-game it was a sort of gamble, but much more apt to lead to trouble, since personalities rather than skill or pure luck entered into the trades.
We have the same sort of occasion in our society – the annual Ladies’ Aid Bazaars, with the same philosophy – “give, but hope to come away with a bargain.” The rummage sale serves the same purpose, both of these functions without the fun and excitement, but both conducted in honour of some “cause”. “Charity” auction sales fall in the same category. Even gift-giving at Christmas or a potluck dinner can be an occasion for some ‘one-upsmanship’ in hopes of getting better things in return.