Standing Up with G̲a'ax̱sta'las
596 pages, 6 x 9
56 b&w photos, 1 map, 3 tables
Release Date:15 Mar 2013
Release Date:07 Oct 2012
Release Date:07 Oct 2012
Release Date:07 Oct 2012

Standing Up with G̲a'ax̱sta'las

Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church, and Custom

UBC Press

Standing Up with G̲a’ax̱sta’las is a compelling conversation with the colonial past initiated by the descendants of Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw leader and activist, Jane Constance Cook (1870-1951). Working in collaboration, Robertson and Cook’s descendants open this history, challenging dominant narratives that misrepresent her motivations for criticizing customary practices and eventually supporting the potlatch ban. Drawing from oral histories, archival materials, and historical and anthropological works, they offer a nuanced portrait of a high-ranked woman who was a cultural mediator; devout Christian; and activist for land claims, fishing and resource rights, and adequate health care. G̲a’ax̱sta’las testified at the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, was the only woman on the executive of the Allied Indian Tribes of BC, and was a fierce advocate for women and children. This powerful meditation on memory documents how the Kwagu’l Gix̱sa̱m revived their dormant clan to forge a positive social and cultural identity for future generations through feasting and potlatching.

A must-read for scholars and students of anthropology, Aboriginal studies, Canadian history, and collaborative research and for anyone interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest.


  • 2014, Winner - CCWH Book Award, Canadian Committee on Women’s History
  • 2013, Winner - Aboriginal History Prize, Canadian Historical Association
  • 2013, Winner - Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize, American Society for Ethnohistory
  • 2013, Shortlisted - Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, BC Book Prizes
  • 2013, Joint winner - K.D. Srivastava Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing
  • 2015, Shortlisted - The François-Xavier Garneau Medal, Canadian Historical Association
  • 2013, Winner - CLIO Prize for BC, Canadian Historical Association
In this most innovative book, Robertson and the Gix̱sa̱m Clan collectively write a book that will quickly become a methodological model for ethnohistorians. The non-linear narrative, with the focus on an interaction between the anthropologist, the indigenous community (Cook’s descendants), and the memory of Cook, provides a way of dealing with memory and history through the presentation of multiple voices. As one committee member stated, ‘The book models a collaborative process that more and more of us will be challenged to undertake. I think the future of our profession is that we will be expected to write with, rather than about, Indigenous communities. That this book presented a cohesive narrative about a woman whose life was so complicated and whose memory has been so contested by weaving together the voices of so many contributors is stunning to me.’ Award citation, Wheeler-Voegelin Prize, American Society for Ethnohistory
Standing Up with G̲a’ax̱sta’las breaks new ground in collaborative research. Leslie Robertson and the Kwagu’l Gix̱sa̱m Clan have produced a volume that addresses recursive interpretations of Jane Cook’s life and times from oral histories and archival documents. This book will enliven conversations about Northwest Coast anthropology for years to come. Julie Cruikshank, Professor Emerita, Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia
This profound book, which skilfully weaves biography, history, and scholarly discussions, offers a nuanced way of thinking about Native culture and its political uses within communities and in the larger society. A must-read for specialists of the Northwest Coast, it will also inspire scholars and students in Native studies, women’s studies, ethnohistory, and sovereignty studies. Michael E. Harkin, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Wyoming
Leslie A. Robertson is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia. The Kwagu’l Gix̱sa̱m Clan includes approximately one thousand members descended from a common ancestor. Their cultural root is Tsax̱is (Fort Rupert).

Foreword / Nella Nelson


Introduction: “Having Oneness on Your Face”

Part I – The Living Text: Traces of Jane Cook

Part II – Duḵwa̱’esa̱la (Looking Around On the Beach): Ancestors

Part III – Stranger Than Fiction: Surviving the Missionary

Part IV – “Children of the Potlatch System,” 1888-1912

Part V – “We As the Suppressed People,” 1913-18

Part VI – “We Are the Aboriginee, Which Is Not a Citizen,” 1918-27

Part VII – “With the Potlatch Custom in My Blood,” 1930-39

Part VIII – One Voice from Many: Citizenship, 1940-48

Part IX – A Tower of Strength: Word Memorials, 1951

Part X – Dlax̱w’it’sine’ (For Your Standing), Feasting




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