A Logger's Life Revisited
- Henry Pennier (Editor), Keith Thor Carlson (Editor), and Kristina Fagan (Editor)
'Call Me Hank': A Stó:lo Man's Reflections on Logging, Living, and Growing Old. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Manina Jones
‘Call Me Hank’ was first published in 1972 under the title Chiefly Indian: The Warm and Witty Story of a British Columbia Half Breed Logger. The original publication was part of a wave of Aboriginal autobiographies published in the 1970s, often written in collaboration with non-Aboriginal editors and/or anthropologists. This new edition, produced by University of Saskatchewan historian Keith Thor Carlson and literary scholar Kristina Fagan, makes Pennier’s engaging memoir newly available and undertakes an important reframing of Pennier’s life story from historical, cultural and literary perspectives.
In 1969, Henry Pennier, a non-status elder from the British Columbia Stó:lõ First Nation community, was contacted by linguist Wyn Roberts, who sought the former out for his knowledge of Halq’eméylem, a traditional language, and his expertise in Stó:lõ culture. Roberts asked Pennier to relate Aboriginal myths, which Roberts initially intended, in conventional fashion, to record and translate. In response to Roberts’ request, Pennier chose to write in English, rather than orally recount his stories in Halq’eméylem. He also chose to tell, not ancient legends, but personal anecdotes, reminiscences, and jokes. Pennier expounded, for example, on his work as a logger, salmon cannery employee and agricultural labourer; his play at lacrosse and bingo; his role as a “half breed” in Canadian culture and politics; his life after injury and retirement. As Carlson and Fagan put it, Pennier “refused to be identified only as a voice of tradition.” The text of the memoir he eventually produced is reproduced in this 2006 edition almost exactly as it appeared in 1972.
There are, though, important changes in the way Pennier’s stories are now presented. The new title, for starters, highlights both Pennier’s insistence on acts of self-definition and on the informal engagement his distinctive storytelling establishes with readers. Pennier’s is very much a vital voice, marked by the present-day circumstances of his retrospection, his associative train of thought, and an immediacy of interaction with his audience: “I suppose you want to hear some altar boy stories,” he writes, or “Don’t suppose you under-forty types know what [car knockers] is either do you?” or “I suppose you think [having multiple electrical appliances] is funny because I am Indian sort of.” His address, and his consideration of what it means to be “Indian sort of,” however, is far from artless; Pennier’s autobiographical voice—and the limitations he places on it—is clearly considered. He often counters what he perceives to be his audience’s expectations of a “half breed” speaker, and while his account is informal, it is far from intimate (he barely references his family life, for instance).
Carlson and Fagan’s excellent critical introduction suggests a variety of contexts for reading Pennier’s tales, including his personal idiosyncrasies, his negotiation of racial politics, his engagement with prevailing models of masculinity, his place within historical labour and technological practices in the logging industry, his attitudes toward injury and aging, and the relation of his autobiography to other more activist-minded Aboriginal life stories published in the 1970s. In addition, the editors provide framing materials, including a foreword by Pennier’s son (Pennier Senior died in 1991), Roberts’ original preface, explanatory end notes, photographs and illustrations, a glossary of logging terms, a biographical sketch of Pennier’s grandfather, the transcript of a 1972 interview with Pennier, and a list of critical readings. In short, this edition provides a compelling model for carefully contextualizing and broadening the audience for such vital life stories.
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Books reviewed: Trail of the Spirit: The Mysteries of Medicine Power Revealed by George Blondin and Tales from Moccasin Avenue: An Anthology of Native Stories by Morgan Stafford O'Neal
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MLA: Jones, Manina. A Logger's Life Revisited. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #194 (Autumn 2007), Visual/Textual Intersections. (pg. 159 - 160)
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