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Review

Written as I Remember It: Teachings (ʔəms taʔaw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

By Elsie Paul in collaboration with Paige Raibmon and Harmony Johnson

December 16, 2014

Review By Dorothy Kennedy

Sliammon elder Elsie Paul’s grandmother told her in the 1930s that knowing how to harvest food, cook, and raise children was all that a good woman really needed. It was a view said to be commonly held and expressed by elders, often with the sceptical enquiry, “What you gonna get out of reading a book?” (172). The question obviously weighed on Elsie Paul’s mind, for by the time she began dictating her own book in 2007 she had clearly defined her objective — “to document the history as I remember it” (4). Elsie Paul has a lot of memories, and the book, Written as I Remember It: Teachings (ʔəms taʔaw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, is correspondingly long. The eleven chapters are divided into four main sections: Where I Come From; Child; Mother; and Chi-Chia, the latter being the Sliammon term for “grandmother.” Each section is interspersed with legends, placed where they overlap thematically with the previous chapter, and two of these legends are expertly transcribed in the Indigenous language by linguist Honoré Watanabe. An informative Introduction by historian Paige Raibmon adds the chronology of the undertaking, an on-again, off-again project that Raibmon picked up along the way to assist her former student, Harmony Johnson, Elsie Paul’s granddaughter, who continued an undertaking that had begun with a year-and-a-half recording project by journalist Janet May and university administrator Arlette Raaen. While Raibmon provides an explanation of why these latter two women are not also listed as collaborators in the final work, this reader comes away thinking that it is a point that should have been further considered. Raibmon’s Introduction also provides a good discussion of the approach that the collaborators took in editing and restructuring the transcripts of these interviews to maintain Paul’s “voice,” while highlighting the four narrative threads and omitting unnecessary repetition.

Elsie Paul’s contribution of an Indigenous woman’s knowledge and life experience is not notable for its uniqueness but rather for the commonality of experience she shares with other Sliammon women of her generation, whose lives have been guided by teachings embedded in anecdotes, stories, and legends alike. An account that I found personally moving focused on teachings taught to her by Rose and Bill Mitchell, members of an older generation of community elders who contributed significantly to Sliammon Life, Sliammon Lands, a book often referenced by the collaborators of Written as I Remember It. The story in question is Elsie Paul’s heart-rending account of the death of one of her infants and the assistance and advice provided by the Mitchells during the return of the child’s body by car to Sliammon. This trip involved an overnight stay in Vancouver and the fortuitous meeting of these elders who shepherded the grieving parents through this difficult situation (238-241). It is a poignant story, beautiful for the clarity it offers concerning the transmission of teachings and the creation of community built upon shared beliefs and understanding. I am thankful for Elsie Paul’s inclusion of this account.

A strong, independently-minded woman, the first to sit on the Sliammon First Nation’s Council, Elsie Paul has had an inspirational presence in her family and in her community. This charming book should be warmly embraced by all those who seek to comprehend the teachings that guided this Sliammon woman’s life in the twentieth century.

REFERENCES

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

Written as I Remember It: Teachings (ʔəms taʔaw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder
Elsie Paul in collaboration with
Paige Raibmon and Harmony Johnson
Vancouver: UBC Press: 2014. 488 pp. $39.95 paper