In a continuation of a potlatch which started in October 2022, Jeff Cook, Yał luu a, invited people back to the Alberni Athletic Hall Dec. 9 to complete the business of transferring his ha’wilth seat. The 2022 potlatch was cut short due to circumstances beyond the control of the hosts, who promised they would finish their business on a better day. Dec. 9, 2023 was the day they completed their work for Huu-ay-aht’s Yaałuuwaštak̕amałtḥ house.
The event started with an aitstuthla, or coming of age ceremony, for the young women of the Cook house. Yał luu a’s speaker told the crowd that the ha’wilth was standing up the young ladies as adults on that day. The young women, all dressed in white, were escorted onto the floor and placed in front-row seats where they were surrounded by people that were there to protect them.
One-by-one, each young woman received a name from Yał luu a. The names were printed on tags hung around each girls’ neck as a speaker explained the meaning of the name, or why it was chosen for that particular person. The names, said speaker Haa’yuups, mean that Yał luu a claims them as his own and in proof that they belong in his house.
“They each have responsibilities, as women…when a do like this happens, they won’t be sitting around,” explained Haa’yuups. “They all have roles and responsibilities in their house.”
In addition, if anyone wants to take any of the young ladies as a wife, they must first go through the people of the house who have made a promise to protect them.
“These men,” said Haa’yuups, motioning toward the people seated behind the young women, “they will fight for them…make sure they’re treated right. If someone wants to take them as a bride, they must be worthy.”
Other members of Yaałuuwaštak̕amałtḥ house were given names from their ha’wilth – his last order of business before retiring from 35 years as Huu-ay-aht’s second chief.
Following the naming ceremony, Huu-ay-aht women danced onto the floor, each carrying an item from Yał luu a’s hupakwanim – his treasures used to conduct his chiefly duties. They were placed on tables, prominently displayed.
Calling his daughter Sherri to his side, through his speaker Yał luu a announced that he would be giving her his chieftainship to hold until her own son is ready to take the seat. Removing his woven cedar chief’s hat, he placed it on his daughter’s head as the crowd applauded.
He removed his red shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders, announcing that his name, Yał luu a, would now be hers.
“From here, it’s hers,” said Cook, stating he is now retired, and she would be hosting the rest of the potlatch.
The now retired ha’wilth said his new name is Soktis.
A beaming Sherri continued naming members of the house as part of their goal to ensure all of their members have names.
Following a dance by Huu-ay-aht people, the floor was opened to anyone wishing to make presentations or offer words of advice to the newly seated Yał luu a.
Several from Nuu-chah-nulth nations and beyond stood to congratulate the new ha’wilth and showed their support by dancing and offering gifts.
The celebration went on well past midnight.