Mapping Native Lives
- Chris Friday (Author)
Lelooska: The Life of a Northwest Coast Artist. University of Washington Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Grant Keddie (Author)
Songhees Pictorial: A History of the Songhees People as seen by Outsiders, 1790-1912. Royal British Columbia Museum (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Jennifer Kramer
Both of these texts are social biographies that map the marginalizations and reclamations that delineate native lives. They palpably depict how native people have fought for social and cultural space while living under colonially imposed stereotypes which denigrate and exclude.
In Songhees Pictorial, Grant Keddie has compiled an impressive collection of photographs, artistic renderings, maps and archival written records relating to the Songhees People. By reconnecting this visual evidence to original locations, dates and subject matters, he reconstructs the story of an all but forgotten reserve in the Inner Harbour of Victoria, and the Coast Salish people who lived there between 1843 and 1911. Keddie offers a chronological account of cultural intersections from the perspective of the Victorian government and its Euro-Canadian inhabitants. He highlights settlement patterns, treaty-making, wage labour, warfare, depopulation through violence and disease, and ceremonial life. The Songhees actively negotiated their relocation from the old reserve to their new reserve, refusing to move without proper compensation. This book is a testimony to Songhees ability to adapt to new lifestyles while maintaining their difference.
Keddie astutely observes: “In this time of economic depression, some Victorians complained about the idleness of aboriginal people, yet became more angry when they took jobs in colonial enterprises.” Captured in this pithy sentence are the ambivalences and contradictions of Euro-Canadian/Songhees relations, which Keddie should have analyzed further. Ironically, in a book of maps, the reader can easily get disoriented and lose the larger context due to the prevalence of shifting group names and changing place appellations. While rich in factual detail, the complexity of this story is often hard to follow without a contemporary map of the environs of Victoria and the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
Although Keddie openly acknowledges in his title the “Outsider” viewpoint, he misses the chance to include contemporary Songhees’ perspectives to restore the imbalance. This work can be seen as an act of repossession, where the Songhees are visually reconnected to their traditional territories. Yet the appendix on Songhees’ traditional worldview, that mixes the past tense with the ethnographic present, seems a double erasure. It suggests loss of, rather than continuity with, cultural heritage. The text has the potential to serve as a dual recovery project, reminding the reader of the existence and agency of the Songhees, and providing the contemporary Songhees, who now live in Esquimalt Harbour, with further means to strengthen their identity.
Lelooska tells the life history of Don “Lelooska” Smith, a controversial artist and storyteller of Cherokee and European ancestry who lived in the Pacific Northwest from 1933 - 1996. As a non-federally-recognized, off reserve Indian, Lelooska became (in)famous for carving and selling First Nations Northwest Coast art and performing dances, songs and stories for a paying audience at his compound in Ariel, Washington. Historian and friend, Chris Friday collaborated with Lelooska at the end of his life to record his memories. The book chronologically details Lelooska’s artistic and cultural inspirations, and usefully situates them within historical and theoretical contexts. By editing and organizing Lelooska’s compelling narrative into well-shaped themes, Friday charts the rise of pan-Indianism and indigenous political activism. He also dissects the western art market’s newfound appreciation of native northwest coast material culture as art in the 1960s and 70s. With entertaining and incongruous anecdotes, Lelooska recounts supporting his family by selling “Cowboy and Indian” curios, dancing, and wearing native dress for tourists at the Pendleton Round-up in Oregon, and being hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to teach carving and button-blanket design to the Makah of the Olympic Peninsula.
Informative and engaging for a general audience, one of the strengths of this text is its introduction to the elaborate protocols and permissions of the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. Lelooska relates the significance of befriending the Sewid family as they sought political recognition and repatriation of potlatch regalia confiscated under the repressive Anti-Potlatch clause of the 1884 Canadian Indian Act. This relationship led to Lelooska’s adoption into the Sewid family and official permission to carve in Kwakwaka’wakw style. Notably, the text does not avoid detailing the responsibilities as well as the honours that come with receiving a name.
Friday makes the larger point that identities are complex, rarely remaining within essentialist boundaries. Lelooska’s life demonstrates how one may be simultaneously pan-Indian, Cherokee and Kwakwaka’wakw, defying those that would claim these are mutually exclusive identities. Surprisingly, this text manages to be celebratory without being overly so, balancing Lelooska’s successes with his life’s challenges and difficulties. Both of these books speak to native agency, an issue often overlooked in dominant legal, social, and cultural narratives, and can be recommended for this corrective.
- A Feast of Literature and a Helping of Literary Criticism by Niigonwedom J. Sinclair
Books reviewed: Two Houses Half-Buried in Sand: Oral Traditions on the Hul'q'umi'num' Coast Salish of Kuper Island and Vancouver Island by Chris Arnett and Beryl Mildred Cryer and Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective by Janice Acoose, Lisa Brooks, Tol Foster, LeAnne Howe, Daniel Heath Justice, Philip Carroll Morgan, Kimberley Roppolo, Cheryl Suzack, Christopher B. Teuton, Sean Teuton, Robert Warrior, and Craig Womack
- First Nations Identity by Jennifer Kramer
Books reviewed: The Star-Man and Other Tales by Jonas George (Wah-sa-ghe-zik) and Basil H. Johnston, Privileging the Past: Reconstructing History in Northwest Coast Art by Judith Ostrowitz, The Trickster Shift: Humour and Irony in Contemporary Native Art by Allan J. Rayan, What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? by Richard Van Camp and George Littlechild, and Mythic Beings: Spirit of the Northwest Coast by Gary Wyatt
- Ways of Going North by Sherrill Grace
Books reviewed: Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge and Light for a Cold Land: Lawren Harris's Work and Life--An Interpretation by Peter Larisey
- Accountable Readings by Penny Van Toorn
Books reviewed: How Should I Read These?: Native Women Writers in Canada by Helen Hoy
- Living as Spirits by Catherine Rainwater
Books reviewed: Chiwid by Sage Birchwater, Big Bear (Mistahimusqua): A Biography by J. R. Miller, and Gatherings Vol. VI: The En'owkin Journal of First North American Peoples by Don Fiddler and Linda Jaine
MLA: Kramer, Jennifer. Mapping Native Lives. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #186 (Autumn 2005), Women & the Politics of Memory. (pg. 136 - 138)
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