Xweliqwiya: The Life of a Stó:lō Matriarch
December 18, 2014
Review By Leslie Robertson
Xweliqwiya is the name carried by Rena Point Bolton among the Steqó:ye Wolf People. It marks an indelible position in the Xwélmexw (Stó:lō) world, relating her to a particular geography, linking her to mythological narratives, oral histories, and ceremonial privileges. Like the ancestral name and the woman who carries it, this book does things in the world. Anthropologist and collaborator Richard Daly writes that Mrs. Point Bolton’s intention in publishing her life story is to “establish who she is in order to pass on her rights and obligations” and to “safeguard these rights and duties” (xlviii). Xweliqwiya stands alongside other published works initiated by First Nation tellers that are (increasingly) explicitly intended for circulation in local contexts where, as family histories, they pass on teachings and pull together relatives, make claims to customary rights and privileges, and act as interventions, amending the public record and disrupting colonial representations.
A compelling theme of politics surrounding silence and voice runs throughout this book; it refers both to protocols for the circulation of Xwélmexw knowledge systems and to responses and strategies in the face of colonial violence. Rena Point Bolton and Richard Daly situate her story in relation to colonial structures that shape the experiential realities she narrates. As an activist who wove her “way into political life” (133), Mrs. Point Bolton describes the reanimation of Xwélmexw artistic expressions (especially basket weaving) and chronicles her work with the Indian Arts and Crafts Society and the BC Indian Homemakers Society (about which there is interesting detail). Her gendered history includes organized struggles around social welfare, pensions for Elders, the politics of enfranchisement, and responses to illegal adoptions (140-145). But this is also a work about sacred geographies and smokehouse traditions that takes special care in describing the well debated “knowledge and healing procedures of Sxwóyxwey” (116).
Originally acquainted through their work on fisheries with the Alliance of Tribal Councils (1988), the authors shape a “knowledge in place” built from daily activities on the lands and waterways that are meaningful to Xwélmexw (Stó:lō) people. Richard Daly acts as Mrs. Point Bolton’s “speaker,” a customary position formalized by her son Steven Point (x), the former Lieutenant-governor of British Columbia. This role positions Daly within a particular ethical relationship in the Coast Salish world. His responsibility of “living into her story” (lii) is guided by what he calls “discussion-driven dialogue” (xl). As “Rena’s text advisor,” he placed her poems and richly annotated her story with detailed notes (on the page) that situate this work within broader literatures and historical and political contexts (xlvi). The book is well illustrated and includes family trees in addition to a glossary and pronunciation guide for Halq’emélem words.
Of great interest is the inclusion of “road maps” for Xwélmexw and “mainstream” readers that reveal the often-unseen protocols and intentionalities at work when there are double audiences. So, Xwélmexw readers are warned to be prepared for visual conventions used by publishers to represent stories, as well as the “mainstream” expectation that biographical works emphasize the individual rather than a familial constellation of persons and all that is rolled up in that (xlvii). In a dexterous act of cultural translation, Daly informs “mainstream” readers about the importance of demonstrating (and recognizing) matrilineal lines of descent within Xwélmexw society. Doing so establishes Mrs. Point Bolton’s family’s claims “to the right to conduct and control a prominent healing ceremony” (xlviii-xlix), claims that may be sanctioned and / or contested in Xwélmexw society.
Within the varied settings of Rena Point Bolton’s life story, this book demonstrates the fascinating range and play of philosophical, intellectual, and esoteric forms of Xwélmexw knowledge.
Xweliqwiya: The Life of a Stó:lō Matriarch
Rena Point Bolton and Richard Daly
Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2013. 250 pp. $34.95 paper