We acknowledge that we live and work on unceded Indigenous territories and we thank the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations for their hospitality.

Review

Be of Good Mind: Essays on the Coast Salish

By Bruce G. Miller

November 4, 2013

Review By Dorothy Kennedy

Be of Good Mind is promoted as revealing “how Coast Salish lives and identities have been reshaped by two colonizing nations and by networks of kinfolk, spiritual practices, and ways of understanding landscape” (back cover). It purports to be a “seamlessly edited” interdisciplinary assemblage that “teases apart the received wisdom of earlier studies and brings the scholarship on the Coast Salish up to date.” The volume further claims to be the necessary follow-up to Wayne Suttles’ seminal work on the Coast Salish. I would have liked to have heartily recommended a new work of such breadth, but I cannot. 

In the interests of full disclosure I should first declare a bias in reviewing this compilation of ten essays, which arises from the fact that my own work precisely on the subject of the book has been ignored. My master’s thesis, awarded the Lieutenant-Governor’s medal, tested Wayne Suttles’ influential model of social relations. I examined and quantified the evidentiary basis for the assumptions concerning the extent and incidence of village exogamy within central coast Salish society that purportedly underpin much of Suttles’ work. My doctoral thesis, awarded by the University of Oxford, addressed the situational nature of identity within Coast Salish society and the relationship between identity and place, including the milieu of contemporary First Nations’ land claims. Instead of referencing these locally available works, Be of Good Mind (71) references only my 1983 book Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands (co-authored with Randy Bouchard), where this volume oddly appears, along with Pamela Amoss’ 1978 Coast Salish Spirit Dancing, under the subheading “Litigation,” as though these books were done for court purposes, thereby attributing to them, in a reductive manner, a cloudy political genesis. While the author mistakenly presumes that “not much went on in Coast Salish research in the 1970s and 1980s” (71), an accurate accounting of those decades must await a more extensive review. 

I should not be surprised by the omission of my own work, for much else from scholarship other than that of the contributors and their teachers (who unfailingly cite each other) is either neglected or disparaged. Even with classics like Wilson Duff’s 1952 Upper Stalo, an attempt is made to show it as inadequate, contributing to accounts “somewhat jumbled and confused” (142), although in order to do so the deconstructor has to distort the facts. For instance, Duff does not “erroneously” (142) assign the location of the landslide that started the migration of the Chilliwack to xéyles lower down the river. Duff has it right at No. 22 in his published list, and he reports directly from his field notes without the complained-of discrepancy. In fact, the discrepancy is in the footnote citation in the present volume (175 n. 6) which refers to p. 50 of Duff’s field notes, instead of p. 63. Nor can any alleged problem of translation aimed at Duff be corroborated by Oliver Wells’s interview with Albert Louie on the subject of the migration (175 n. 8). Mr. Louie simply does not say what is credited to him by this chapter’s author (and the discussion in question appears on p. 162 of Oliver Wells, 1987, and not p. 160). 

The few exceptions to the axe-grinding essays collected here include that of archaeologist Colin Grier, whose approach contains all the modesty in regard to previous sources that one would expect from a devoted scientific investigator. Critical thinking and a well-structured argument provide an engaging discussion of restrictions in the application of ethnographic narratives to questions posed during archaeological inquiry. Grier acknowledges that his views may be dismissed as academic or irrelevant to contemporary Coast Salish political concerns (302), but he contends that the pursuit of a more carefully constructed prehistory will achieve, in the end, more beneficial understanding all round (303).

The majority of the contributions in Be of Good Mind seem more clearly devoted to the task of creating a new paradigm out of current political aims. This is made most apparent by Daniel Boxberger and should therefore be cited fully: “Contemporary Coast Salish anthropologists are working within the context of Boldt and Delgamuukw, and our entreé into Native communities depends upon the communities’ perception that our research has some practical application in respect to land, resources, and self-determination. Not only does our relationship with Coast Salish communities depend upon this perception but our moral and ethical commitments demand it. My hope is that we are witnessing a shift from a politically motivated research agenda directed by the nation-state to a politically motivated research agenda directed by the Fourth World state” (76).

Many of the contributors to Be of Good Mind subscribe to the notion that the process of interpreting factual knowledge into palatable current weaponry is the job of the anthropologist and historian. Can a seeker of the truth respect this new expediency? 

References

Amoss, Pamela. 1978. Coast Salish Spirit Dancing: The Survival of an Ancestral Religion. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Duff, Wilson. 1952. The Upper Stalo Indians of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia. Anthropology in British Columbia. Memoirs 1. Victoria.

Kennedy, Dorothy and Randy Bouchard. 1983. Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands. Vancouver: Talonbooks.

Wells, Oliver N. 1987. The Chilliwacks and Their Neighbours. Edited by Ralph Maud, Brent Galloway, and Marie Weeden. Vancouver: Talonbooks.