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.
- 2013, Winner - Aboriginal History Prize, Canadian Historical Association
- 2014, Winner - CCWH Book Award, Canadian Committee on Women’s History
- 2013, Winner - CLIO Prize for BC, Canadian Historical Association
- 2013, Winner - Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize, American Society for Ethnohistory
- 2013, Joint winner - K.D. Srivastava Prize for Excellence in Scholarly Publishing
- 2013, Short-listed - Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, BC Book Prizes
- 2015, Short-listed - The François-Xavier Garneau Medal, 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.
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.
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.
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
As I Remember It
Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder
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