The IPAC NWT Regional Group is pleased to present the following review for the month of October: John S. Long and Jennifer S.H. Brown’s Together We Survive: Ethnographic Intuitions, Friendships, and Conversations, Montreal & Kingston (2016)
This lovely book, a festschrift honouring anthropologist Richard J. Preston, presents a multitude of voices—Indigenous, Settler, friend, and family—engaged in an interesting discussion about James Bay Cree and neighbouring Anishinaabe cultures, building on Preston’s long history of collaborative research in the region. The book is organized in four parts: “Making a Living, Changing Community”; “Images, Textures, Dreams, and Identity”; “Songs and Narratives”; and, ‘Indigenous Rights, Compassion, and Peace’. The book also includes a useful glossary of Cree terms, a selected list of Preston’s publications, contributor biographies, and a detailed index.
The book begins with a lengthy introduction presents an overview of Preston’s work, exploring ideas of friendship, community, and commitment that also reflect the values of his Quaker upbringing. Then, in ten essays, Preston’s former students, academic colleagues, Indigenous friends and research partners, as well as members of his family, investigate the routes by which the eastern James Bay Cree and neighbouring groups, having been confronted with significant encroachments on their lives and lands, have worked together to mold respectful, collaborative research partnerships as they try to not only survive, but flourish.
In the first section, Preston’s academic colleagues Harvey A. Feit and Adrian Tanner explore changes to Cree social economy and architectural practices as a result of colonial pressures. Feit investigates the impacts of a wage economy on the Cree social economy, concluding that, despite decades of encroachment, Cree economic practices continue in important ways. He notes that, in the 1960s, Cree linked hunting, employment, and commercial enterprise in Cree ways, choosing to work for lower wages while running commercial enterprises without maximizing profits to foster traditional ways of living. Over the ensuing decades, adapted practices continued to make room for traditional ways of living, “still strongly shaped by family, community, land-oriented relationships”. Tanner, meanwhile, explores how the move into houses and villages changed Cree ideas of domestic space and social order. He looks at the shift away from traditional structures such as the family conical lodge (miichwaapt) or the larger communal lodge (matutisaanikamikw), large, open dwelling spaces where use and behaviour were mediated by Cree rules of social order. Easily made, these structures allowed families and groups to be mobile and take advantage of seasonally-available resources; the move to government-provided houses in villages, however, resulted in dramatic differences in communal living, sometimes leading to stresses with attendant social problems.
The second section focuses on traditional artifacts. Cath Oberholtzer explores the origins, development, and geographic distribution of Cree pointed hoods. Beautifully- and ornately-decorated with beaded designs on cloth, Oberholtzer reviewed nearly 30 museum examples of the hoods, along with ethnographic and archival records reaching back to the 17th century. Her research lead her to conclude the hoods were worn by both men and women, distinguished by different designs: floral motifs for women, and geometrical and faunal motifs for men. She further speculates the function of men’s hoods and how these were associated with hunting success. Laura Peers focuses, instead on a single hood: one gifted in 1844 to the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, George Jehosephat Mountain.
The first Bishop to visit the Red River Settlement, Mountain was given a number of presents of Indigenous manufacture, including the hood. Peers presents a detailed examination of the hood’s complex historical and cultural context, contrasting this with Mountain’s stereotypical and often mistaken view of the people who gifted it to him. Cory Wilmott examines Anishinaabe doodem pictographs, emblems that represent a “type of kinship expressed through relationship with specific other-than-human entities of the Great Lakes region” that were often connected to a person’s social identity and spiritual guidance. Intricately linked with other cultural practices, their use was affected by colonial and church forces. Despite this, the use and expression of doodem emblems have seen a revival in the latter half of the 20th century, which Wilmott explores in depth.
The third section‘s focus is songs and narratives. Cree scholar Stan L. Louttit examines the spiritual connection between humans and animals expressed in the hunting songs of Cree elder John Kawapit, who passed away in 1990 at the age of 102. Recorded in 1978, they form part of the Canadian Museum of History collection. Loutitt discusses how Kawapit’s songs—often revealed in dreams—voice a personal and intimate relationship with the animals he hunted. Regna Darnell‘s essay looks at Preston’s collaborative, respectful approach to research partnerships “stands at the heart of anthropology and literature and thus at the crossroads of the social sciences and humanities”. She suggests this crossover brings “understanding to a wider public audience through … imagination”, referring Indigenous authors and artists, including work by Thomas King and the reflective texts of N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko, both members of the so-called Native American Renaissance in the United States. She also examines other successful collaborations between anthropologists and Indigenous groups, concluding that effective cross-cultural communication depends on imagination and empathy and is best exercised at the “intersections of literature, history and ethnography.”
The final section is, perhaps, the most personal, containing essays by Preston’s daughters as well as conversation with the Preston him. Daughter Jennifer Preston discusses how she was inspired by her father’s connection with the Cree. She spent many summers accompanying him to Cree communities as a child, and elaborates on how these experiences eventually guided her own career. She represented the international body of Quakers at the United Nations while working with the Canadian Friends Service Committee, and participated in the work leading to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Her essay reveals an intimate understanding of the struggle to adopt this declaration, particularly Canada’s early lack of participation, and explores how her own professional development was enhanced by personal relationships with Cree initiated as a child and nurtured later in life. Her sister, Susan M. Preston, also discusses her childhood, which “blessed with the experience of cultural diversity and especially the magic of oral narrative”. It inspired her to study Cree narratives of landscape for both her MA thesis and post-doctoral research. She contrasts a Cree narrative of Mamiteo (a mythical being attributed with “destroying the land” until stopped by a hunter with exceptional skills) with the destruction of the Cree landscape brought about by the James Bay hydroelectric developments in the 70s and the related social upheavals that arose later. She argues that, despite these dramatic changes, many Cree continue to make their living through hunting full-time and for all, the understanding that hunting occurs in the context of the social relations between humans, animals and the land is key.
She also calls for government regulatory processes to recognize that, as an extension of our broader society, they are “grounded in experience, ethics and compassion for the great community of persons.” The final essay presents an intimate conversation between Richard Preston and friend, colleague and former doctoral student, Richard T. McCutcheon, “about Cree narrative, the seeds of a peace mythology, and how [Preston’s] Quaker inclinations have influenced [McCutcheon’s] Conversations such as the one represented in the last chapter, with long-serving and respected anthropologists who have dedicated an entire life to working with Indigenous people in a single region, contain important practical guidance for students just beginning to work with northern communities.
Indeed, the focus on respect and peaceful collaboration is an important and key message of the book. The book would fit comfortably in any northern library, and I recommend it especially to both students and career professionals looking for guidance in their own relationships with Indigenous partner communities.
This review was authored by DR. TOM ANDREWS. A recent retiree, Dr. Andrews was the former Territorial Archaeologist and Manager, NWT Cultural Places Program, at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, the Government of the Northwest Territories’ museum and archives. Dr. Andrews has published extensively and has decades of work and research experience in the North, including numerous collaborative projects with Aboriginal communities. This review was prepared for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada’s (IPAC) NWT Regional Group book forum, and the book was provided as a courtesy by McGill/Queen’s University Press Please note the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of IPAC.