Edited and with an introduction by Barnett Richling
In 1935, National Museum of Canada anthropologist Diamond Jenness did several months of fieldwork with the Coast Salish peoples of southwestern Vancouver Island. His main focus was the WSANEC, then a little-known group whose reserves lay on the Saanich Peninsula, a short distance from Victoria. Here, and later in neighbouring areas, local elders shared with him their knowledge of the “old ways,” a mode of living they all knew at first-hand in their younger days.
Covering a wide array of subjects, everything from fishing practices and marriage customs to conceptions of the natural world around them, the elders filled Jenness’ notebooks with the substance of what stood to become a major contribution to the growing literature on the indigenous peoples of Canada’s Pacific northwest. But when World War II intervened and he was called away to other duties, his partly-finished manuscript—The Saanich Indians of Vancouver Island—was set aside, the only of his many museum-sponsored ethnographic researches to remain unpublished in his lifetime. Now, with publication of The WSANEC and their Neighbours, the words and insights of those elders, written down eighty years ago, are available to a general readership for the first time. Drawing on Jenness’ notes, editor Barnett Richling has completed the book as originally planned, supplementing the material with annotations, illustrations, and a collection of Salish myths and legends the anthropologist recorded during the same field trip. The result is a highly readable account, a blend of ethnography and oral history favouring description over analysis, and plain language over jargon. This body of WSANEC traditional knowledge comprises a valuable addition to scholarship on Coast Salish peoples, and also forms an excellent companion piece to Richling’s recent edition of Jenness’ Three Athapaskan Ethnographies.
BARNETT RICHLING is a senior scholar in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Winnipeg, and author of In Twilight and in Dawn: A Biography of Diamond Jenness (McGill-Queens, 2012). He taught for many years at Mount St. Vincent University.
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