Chantelle Pence: On day of potlatch, a 'drunk' becomes a human

"I walked in to the low-income housing unit to see an elder about some meat that my dad had sent down for a potlatch that my in-laws were preparing for. It was fresh caught beaver and I wasn't sure if I should bring it straight over to the community hall kitchen, or give it to an "expert" to prepare. I walked in to the elder's living room where several people were gathered.

I told Grandma what I had in the back of my pick-up and right away one of the guys jumped up to get it. I had known him for a long time, and always thought of him a certain way. He was a casual friend, though I never thought too highly of him. He was the guy that parents made reference to when they told their children not to grow up to be like him. He didn't have a regular job. He drank a lot, smoked a lot, and generally was known as kind of a bum. But that day I saw something different.

He stood with a purpose that I had never seen in him before. He immediately went out to my truck to pack in the two beaver carcasses. He moved with grace ... and with love. I observed him during the rest of my visit. When other people showed up to the house, he stood to greet them. He gave genuine hugs. He was fully himself. It was the first time I had seen the real him. Or maybe the first time I acknowledged that he was a real human being, not just a drunk."

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Chantelle Pence: On day of potlatch, a drunk becomes human (The Anchorage Daily News 6/5)

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