UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Celebration: Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian dancing on the land [book review] Duffek, Karen 2009

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Item Metadata


52387-KDuffek_BCStudies161_2009.pdf [ 92.79kB ]
JSON: 52387-1.0103646.json
JSON-LD: 52387-1.0103646-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 52387-1.0103646-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 52387-1.0103646-rdf.json
Turtle: 52387-1.0103646-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 52387-1.0103646-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 52387-1.0103646-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

137Book Reviews reader to believe that the figures she describes are common to all of these groups. For example, her descriptions of “Dzunkwa” and “Siskiutl” make no mention of the fact that these figures are originally specific to the Kwakwaka’wakw people. Without succumbing to cultural essentialism, giv ing more expl icit at tention to distinctions between groups would have served an educational purpose in line with Kramer’s active support of many First Nations artists’ efforts to respect cultural boundaries in the name of indigenous protocols and proprietary rights. Kramer is of course very far from being the first to directly or indirectly imply that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Coast form one single cultural entity. In fact, anthropologists and art historians of the so-called “Northwest Coast” are largely responsible for the construction of this misrepresentation, one that some scholars are now actively questioning and attempting to dispel (see, for example, the forthcoming volume The Idea of Northwest Coast Art, edited by Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Jennifer Kramer, and Ki-ke-in, UBC Press).  One of Totem Poles’ most appreciable features is the attention Kramer has given to weaving into the pages of her book references to and photographs of the lives and accomplishments of contemporary First Nations, thus helping communicate respect and admiration for their living cultures. For this, and for the clear and concise overview of the vast topic of totem poles it offers, Totem Poles will no doubt be enjoyed by visitors to and residents of British Columbia who are looking for an introduction to this complex subject. Celebration: Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian Dancing on the Land Rosita Worl. Foreword by Byron I. Mallott and essays by Maria Williams and Robert Davidson. Photographs by Bill Hess. Edited by Kathy Dye. Juneau/Seattle: Sealaska Heritage Institute/University of Washington Press, 2008. 152 pp. Illus.  $40.00 cloth. Karen Duffek University of British Columbia Concerned that not all Native A l a sk a n  c h i ld r en  h a d  t he opportunity to learn their communities’ anc ient songs and dances or to participate in traditional ceremony, the fledging Native non-profit Sealaska Heritage Institute decided to hold a dance-and-culture festival in Juneau in 1982. Their objective was to celebrate the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of southeast Alaska. This first Celebration, which attracted about two hundred participants, has since grown to become the largest cultural event in the state, drawing thousands of people to the biennial f ive-day festival and prompting the formation of dance groups as well as the creation of new regalia throughout the region. The events have been documented through amateur and professional photography, video, television, and webcasts. This book adds to the mediated experience of Celebration, compiling 267 photographs, most of them by Bill Hess, into a kind of album representing the cultural communities and many of their elders, dancers, singers, and other participants.  Four essays by Tlingit cultural leader and anthropologist Rosita Worl explore bc studies138 the historical context of Celebration, placing the contemporary gatherings within an accessible, informed discussion of ongoing attempts by Native people to assert control of their lands, economies, and cultura l practices. These are supplemented with commentaries by Tlingit Kwaashk’i Kw’aan clan leader Byron Mallott, Tlingit/Carcross-Tagish ethnomusicologist Maria Williams, and Haida artist Robert Davidson. “The authors are Native artists and academics,” notes Worl, who is also the book’s editor; “and thus readers will see such words as ku.éex' and at.óow in lieu of the English words for ‘potlatch’ and ‘property.’ The English words fail to convey or embody Native concepts, and the Native words are used in the hopes of replacing some erroneous conceptions conveyed in earlier anthropological writings” (18). In this sense, the book celebrates but does not limit itself to celebratory discourse: Worl both acknowledges and problematizes the process of attempting translations across cultural, generational, and institutional boundaries – including describing the difficult decisions that had to be made by the Celebration Committee itself “because of the cultural complexities and sensitivities of integrating traditional practices into a new and secular event” (12). Moreover, the object-centred discourse that characterizes many books and exhibition catalogues about Northwest Coast Aboriginal art is here reoriented towards people and the connections between them, the spiritual and social values that supersede the status of ceremonial regalia as art objects, and the public context within which the preservation of cultural traditions is performed.  After I received a copy of this book for review, I had the opportunity of showing it to an Alaskan Tlingit acquaintance who has attended Celebration over the years. She was curious to see how her experiences might be reflected in the publication, and she soon became engrossed in the black-and-white photos of earlier gatherings in the 1980s as well as in the colour-rich photos of more recent events. Almost all of the individuals pictured in the book are identified by name; she pointed at images of friends and relatives, laughing with pleasure at seeing them included and readily shedding tears at photos prompting memories of a beloved uncle since passed away or an aunt whose songs still ring in her ears. This book is highly visual and yet clearly emphasizes that which goes beyond the merely visual. Directed primarily towards an Aboriginal audience, it offers all readers an on-the-dance-floor picture of the importance of joy, memory, and recognition in affirming – and creating – community. Landing Native Fisheries: Indian Reserves and Fishing Rights in British Columbia, 1849-1925 Douglas C. Harris Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008. 296 pp. Ill. $32.95 paper. Frank Tough University of British Columbia Landing Native Fisheries is an important contribution to the h istor y of f isher ies and a good companion to Harris’ Fish, Law, and Colonialism (2001). This is a serious study that demonstrates conclusively that dispossession of Aboriginal lands in British Columbia left only tiny reserves


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items