Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws: Yerí7 re Stsq’ey’s-kucw
January 11, 2018
Review By Robin Ridington
Marianne and Ron Ignace are members of the Secwépemc First Nation in south-central British Columbia. Ron was raised by his great-grandparents, grew up speaking Secwepemctsín, and is a former Chief. Both Ron and Marianne have advanced degrees in anthropology. Together with past and present Secwépemc elders, linguists, archaeologists and ethnobotanists, they have produced a masterful and definitive story of an ancient culture that continues to thrive despite years of colonial oppression. Both authors are excellent writers and sensitive interpreters of everything from oral history to archaeology, with the archaeology chapter written by Marianne Ignace and archaeologist Mike K. Rousseau.
Oral history supports archaeological and linguistic evidence that Salish speakers moved into Secwépemc territory in “the time of the transformers,” between 5,000 and 4,500 years ago. Oral historians know the original inhabitants before that time as “coyote people.” Oral history is a living thing, as Ron demonstrates in his telling of the story of Tsxlitentem re Skelép (Coyote and Hosts). He tells it in Secwepemctsín with an interlinear translation by Marianne. The story begins with acknowledgement of the elders who have passed it on over the generations. “Coyote was travelling here in our land, it is said.” As he travelled, the animal people of the land hosted him. Each one shared the food he knew with Coyote but warned him, “Don’t copy me, you will get hurt by copying me, when you try it out.” Coyote, of course, plays tricks on himself and is hurt every time he tries to copy his host. After describing how Coyote fails over and over to copy one of the animal people, Ron concludes the story as follows:
See, nowadays our [Aboriginal] people are copying the white people. That way, we have got hurt, we have hurt ourselves, we have hurt one another even. We have forgotten our language, we have forgotten our stories, all the ways of governing ourselves. See, we have become pitiful. The white people have taken our land from us. That’s why we must return to our own ancestors’ ways so we can heal ourselves and once again become numerous. And so that we can get the white people to recognize our existence on the land (71-72).
The book is a realization of that return, using the tools of the white people without copying them. It is a comprehensive work of research into the relevant academic literature, as well as an opportunity for Secwépemc people to tell their story in their own words. It acknowledges the contribution of James Teit for bridging Secwépemc and academic traditions at the beginning of the 20th century. The book is a contribution to scholarship and a tribute to the living traditions of the Secwépemc people. The Secwepemctsín texts are written in the practical alphabet of the language developed by linguist Aert Kuipers. For actual pronunciations I suggest the reader consult an online source. A link to pronouncing the name Secwépemc is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ubSFEekTr0.