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Southern Yukon beadwork objects : a narrative of reclaiming culture Johnson, Ingrid 1996

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SOUTHERN YUKON BEADWORK OBJECTS: A NARRATIVE OF RECLAIMING CULTURE by INGRID JOHNSON B A , The University of British Columbia, 1993 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Department of Anthropology and Sociology \Ne accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA April 1996 ©Ingrid Johnson, 1996 1 1 Abstract This thesis concerns the process and outcomes of my research involving a group of Southern Yukon beadwork objects, a project carried out on behalf of the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon, in 1993. I studied the objects themselves, researched museum documentation of them, and subsequently interviewed several women elders/beadworkers. In the thesis I examine several ways of studying and researching material culture and provide an analysis of these methods. Looking at objects in different ways tells us something about the nature of them but raises new questions which I address here. Reviewing museum collections records tells us more about the institution and the institutional lives of the objects than about their original context and meaning. Asking elders about the objects inspires them to speak about many seemingly unconnected topics: history, personal and mythical stories, and long-ago life and times. An underlying theme which emerged in interviews with elders was their commentary on cultural and societal change within the First Nations community and how this has affected the process of learning for younger generations. I argue that beadwork objects can be best understood as learning and teaching tools for First Nations people of every generation, that their creation and essence are linked to every aspect of the culture, and their reclamation cannot properly happen without observance of all of these connections. i i i Table of Contents Abstract ii Table of Contents iii Introduction 1 Background 3 The Objects 6 Researching Beadwork Artifacts 7 Museum Cataloguing 14 Talking to the Elders 19 Discussion and Conclusions 25 Objects in Museums 26 Women's Work 29 Cultural Change and Reclamation 33 Bibliography 37 Introduction 1 Material culture studies include a broad range of approaches and methods and the focus of them can range from the study of museums and analysis of their societal role to study of the smallest class or group of objects. Whatever the scope of such studies may be, all are informed by the full range. Generally, in the study of particular objects in museum collections, a methodology is adopted which includes studying the object itself and referring to the written record - archival materials and collections records. With the help of such methods, the intention is to place the object in a contextual background, to discover its origins and uses in the society from which it emerged. More recently, oral histories are being accessed, and consultation with members of the relevant cultural group is being seen as a viable method in the study of material culture (Clifford 1989). In contemporary material culture studies, considerable attention is being given to the notion that things have a "life" so to speak, and therefore an object may have a history or a biography which shapes the nature of that object (Kopytoff 1986). Knowing about the lives of cultural objects allows them to tell their stories, giving them voice (Clifford 1989, Sarris 1993:61). Artists themselves are often said to refer to a creative process in which the object takes on a will and life of its own early in the process, thus greatly influencing its own creation (Cruikshank 1995:26, Sarris 1993). In this thesis I will talk about the findings that presented themselves in the course of my own material culture research. In particular, I will talk about one of the items, perhaps the most beautiful in the collection, and how for me it came to symbolize much of what I later learned. In a sense, this part will be my own 'oral history,' the story of my research. I will provide an analysis of what these findings may mean in terms of the challenges facing us as First Nations people today. These have to do with "culture loss" and attempts being made by elders and younger people to rediscover and reclaim their own native culture. I express what this came to mean to me as a woman unfamiliar with my Inland Tlingit culture, and how the research enabled me to rediscover some of my own cultural heritage. The literal explosion of information that resulted from the oral history research was phenomenal. Story lines emerged in many directions. Several of the pieces in the study collection have a colourful and interesting history, a history which includes stories, songs, genealogies, and earlier pictorial and written documentation. For simple practicality, I have chosen to take up only one such story. In other words, this thesis is not about collecting and telling stories but is about the process of collecting and telling stories - not in an ordinary way, but by a First Nations person who has 'lost' her culture and is seeking not only to reclaim it, but to understand how this may be done. In placing the focus on only one of the pieces, I ask the reader to see it not as a simple museum artifact but as a work symbolic of this process, this journey. Background 3 In 1993 I was completing my final year of undergraduate work at the University of British Columbia. For a Pacific Northwest Coast ethnographic course I was taking, I reviewed the recently published Emmons book The Tlingit Indians. In studying the photographs in the book I became interested in some of the beaded clothing the coastal people were wearing. The beaded patterns resembled some of those on objects I had seen the previous summer in the George Johnston Museum in my home town of Teslin, an Inland Tlingit community in the southern Yukon Territory. One of the photograph captions mentioned that some of the costumes were Athabaskan, which suggested a coastal-interior connection. I was so intrigued by these supposed connections that I began work on a proposal to study beadwork objects that existed in Yukon museums. I had grown up in a beadworking environment and was quite familiar with the beadwork art and . industry. This led me to the opportunity of working on a research project with the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon, which was the beginning of my study of southern Yukon beadwork artifacts, a study that was to take me far beyond my original expectations. In my early project proposal I had suggested a comprehensive study of Yukon beaded objects, an extensive literature review, and an investigation of oral histories. My objective was to unearth information from these sources that would 4 confirm the existence of a complex system of inheritance patterns between mother and daughter, would trace inland-coastal trade history, and would also reveal a clear picture of the society that existed before white influence. These seemed important and reasonable expectations and I felt that the research requirements of the MacBride Museum - to retrieve and add missing information to the record -would be advantageous in accomplishing the task. Additionally, the Museum Board members had other objectives of a more political nature. They wished to open communications with the First Nations communities of the Yukon Territory, both to gain the much-needed input of those communities, and to inspire the Museum's culture-conscious funders. Such a study, also conducted by a Yukon First Nations person, would go some way to meeting the Museum's goals. One of the first facts that became evident is that the study could not involve the whole of the Yukon Territory; rather, only a small part could be focused upon. The southern Yukon was chosen for a number of reasons: more practically, it was the location of the MacBride Museum and it was the area with which I was most familiar, but most importantly it was the area that had been most readily influenced historically by the adjacent coastal peoples. The southern Yukon geographical area comprises a distinct cultural area in the Yukon. It is the area that lies between the territories of the coastal Tlingit people and the broad inland corridor occupied by Athapaskan-speaking peoples. At its nucleus are the Tlingit-speaking communites of Teslin, Yukon, and Atlin, in north-western British Columbia. Other 5 nearby communites in the area share varying degrees of coastal Tlingit influence. Some communities have a few linguistic terms in common and share certain stories and names as a result of a history of trade relationships and intermamage with the coastal peoples. Other communites have adopted the more elaborate clan system of the coastal Tlingit. It seemed apparent that objects collected from this area would share a common history and similar influences in terms of their physical and esthetic composition, as well as their cultural significance. It was also especially meaningful for me to delineate this study area. The Inland Tlingit people have often been passed over as an insignificant group - they are neither coastal Tlingit (real Tlingit) nor are they Athapaskan. Historically, they have been treated as somewhat of an anomoly; cultural distinctions have sometimes been ignored, causing them to be improperly grouped together with more dominant groups. This separation is evident in the Handbook of North American Indians, a much-referenced text on First Nations peoples: the Inland Tlingit are placed in the Subarctic volume rather than the Northwest Coast volume, (using the Handbooks own approach to delineating cultural groups) a place they more properly belong. Physically, the Inland Tlingit people are today separated from the coastal people by an international border, and are further separated within the group by the Yukon/B.C. border. For purposes of this study, (following McClellan 1975) the Inland Tlingit and their neighbours, are put on the map. The Objects 6 In limiting the study to the Southern Yukon culture area, my first task was to distinguish artifacts of supposed southern Yukon origin from among the more than a hundred native beaded artifacts residing in the Museum's collection. Of the many beaded items, it turned out that only twenty-five could be considered of southern Yukon origin, and these became the nucleus of a research project that extended in several directions to include the physical study of the artifacts, a publications review, and the oral histories of several elders/beadworkers. The various methodologies, the progress and outcomes of the study are detailed in my project report (Johnson 1993).1 In the MacBride collection, as is true with almost every other North American First Nations collection in existence, museum catalogue information is very sparse. In the majority of cases, makers of objects are unknown, and along with the absence of this vital information is the loss of almost every important aspect of information about the object: its place of origin, purpose, history, composition, cultural significance, and so on. Establishing who the makers were became a very early goal except in the few instances where some of the makers were known, or lrVhe report i s the property of the MacBride Museum i n Whitehorse and i s located i n their library. The research findings include transcripts and audio-taped interviews with five Yukon Fir s t Nations elders who participated i n the study. Access to these documents i s available subject to the terms of oral history agreements reached with the individual elders. 7 said to be known. Otherwise, much of the missing information could only be conjectured or reconstructed from similar objects. Filling in the blanks became the central theme of the exercise. Over the course of the research, my goal was to increase the museum value of the objects by being able to add information to the museum catalogue information, and in doing so, to discover some other extraneous information such as how patterns were handed down and how women's work was regarded in traditional society. For example, I thought that knowing how women's patterns were handed down would help to map genealogies and clan arrangements of the southern Yukon matrilineal society. Instead, in the progress of my research I discovered something quite different. The facts I hoped to find were largely unavailable - consequently, I added one new catalogue item to the museum information. This was information that came to me of that 'extraneous' kind that I had hoped to gather in addition to my real research. Reflecting on the findings makes clear that things are not simply things; rather, they represent meanings, connections, and most of all, they are about people. The objects are repositories of history, both cultural and personal. Setting aside my original fact-finding aims led me to learn and to understand much about my own culture - knowledge that I felt had become lost to me, and indeed simply lost. 8 Researching Beadwork Artifacts Two approaches to gaining information about the artifacts were followed in the beginning: looking at the artifacts in their museum settings along with their documented information, and looking at the artifacts themselves from my own experience with beadwork and my own beadworking culture. I was completely new to the museum culture, never before having done any museum research or handled and studied an artifact. On the other hand, my mother was a respected beadworker and I grew up in an environment where beadwork was often the principal source of income and personal pride for many women. In the following section, I will describe some of my earliest efforts at researching the objects from these two standpoints or approaches, and talk about some of the insufficiencies I discovered, and my reactions to them. For the most part, this group of beadwork artifacts is not at all remarkable. Many are similar to those found in other museums and they are what one would expect in a collection of North American beaded museum objects. There are some items of clothing and ceremonial wear, some household things, and some work items. All of them are practical items and all beautifully decorated and adorned with beads. Many such objects are commonplace in museums but many are also the kinds of things still in use in the southern Yukon today. One of the more unusual kinds of items in this collection are two "wall pockets." These are 9 containers designed to be hung on the wall to hold small articles, and they are somewhat like an envelope in shape, or a series of envelopes, as a wall pocket may have one or more pockets (Duncan 1989). They may be hung on a wall to serve as an important furnishing in a small camp or tent, and they may also be quite readily rolled up and tied with a string to be taken on the trail in a pack. One of the wall pockets in this collection came to be of particular interest to me. First of all, it is extraordinarily beautiful. There are three beaded panels on a field of red cloth. The beadwork design is a series of complex floral designs characterized by colour contrasts and oppositions. Each of the three beaded designs is very nearly symmetrical in shape - only the smallest deliberate detail makes two of the designs asymmetrical. The wall pocket is quite large for its genre as I later discovered.2 VWien beaded objects such as the wall pocket are kept in museum storage rooms, nothing much can happen with them. When they are brought out and looked at or studied, it seems things begin to happen with them. My first introduction to the objects themselves was quite memorable. For me, taking ancient beadwork objects down from storage shelves, opening the boxes and looking at them was an experience akin to that of a first-time researcher at the Smithsonian studying the Hope diamond. These beadwork things were nothing like 2T±Lis wall pocket i s rather magnificent as wall pockets go. It measures 28" high by 11" wide. Most are 12-14" high. 10 my mother's, or any other beadwork I was familiar with for that matter! I regarded them as something like the crown jewels of a long-ago people and I doubted my own place in handling the objects. And I was not unaware of the political implications that surrounded the presence of these objects in the museum, and my own role in working with them. I saw my role as problematic in some ways -1 had to subject myself to the questions asked by many researchers and anthropologists of themselves: how was my presence in the landscape further affecting or accelerating unwanted change? (Rosaldo 1989:86). In collecting oral history to "put in the museum," wasn't I part of the process that the repatriation solution seeks to redress? As elsewhere, reclamation of culture and cultural objects is a priority for Yukon First Nations people. The question often came to me as I worked with the artifacts, "Whose are they?" How does one study an artifact? It was not something I had consciously done before, so I started by doing just that. I sat down with chin in hand and looked at each of them, one by one. It was amazing what I came to learn about the physical properties of the artifacts. Bits of their former environments and traces of earlier use and treatment still clung to them. Studying them under a microscope revealed aspects of workmanship that were not evident with the unaided eye. This kind of study indicated precision of bead placement and workmanship that at times seemed impossible for the circumstances under which they were created. Part of this visual study was working with a conservator to stabilize some of the artifacts. 11 This meant that we did not replace missing beads or repair the pieces in any way, we simply tacked down loose threads or removed vestiges of earlier conservation attempts. We prepared some of the objects for travel by nesting them in specially-constructed boxes. Later, working with a photographer, we posed each of the artifacts and photographed them. Working with the objects in this way - actually picking them up and handling them - brought them to life. For example, dance or octopus bags seem to have a built-in dynamic of movement that suggests they would be quite spectacular when worn while dancing! Later, I had the opportunity of viewing each of them in their newly-photographed state. In this process, the objects were transformed from their existence as simple things - artifacts or museum objects - to become works of art. This somehow brought forward a different aesthetic; aspects of the items became visible that were not visible before: colour composition, for example. Colour choices of beads and materials that went into construction of the pieces had seemed somewhat random when the object was viewed, but when seen in a photograph, it became evident that colour choices had been much more deliberate, perhaps indicating that women planned sewing projects well ahead, accounting for the time they would be isolated from trading posts and other families. The objects in the pictures began to take on a background that, for me, added a sense of permanence to the objects that was not there when viewed by themselves. 12 Viewing the objects took on another fascinating dimension when I saw them as slides. Projecting the images on a very large screen in a darkened room brings forward yet another view of beadwork objects. It allows an acuity of vision that can be experienced in perhaps no other way. As the beads are 'magnified,' their surfaces and colours take on an added brilliance. The wall pocket when viewed in this way had every appearance of a beautiful cathedral window suffused with sunlight. As I viewed this particular slide, by some trick of my imagination perhaps, in the darkened hush of the vacant museum, I began to hear the very faint notes of a song, a woman's song full of love and pathos. Perhaps it was only a song that I had recently been practicing that was coming back to me, but certainly it seemed to be emanating from the beautiful image on the screen. I was so greatly moved by this I could not forget it. At the risk of seeming to be making strange inquiries, I decided to ask the elders about it. I began to think of some of these complex beaded objects as "song sheets," particularly this wall pocket. Looking at the artifacts, studying them, possibly raised more questions than were answered. The items themselves remained a mystery, became even more so. Why were they made, and why were they made so beautifully? The work that went into them had to have been very time-consuming. Each of them represented countless hours of labour. What was so important about them that inspired women to take the time to make such creations? Moving beyond study of the artifacts themselves began to provide answers to some of the questions. Figure 1 Vtellpocket made by Mrs. Tagish Jim Cat. No. 72.1.65a MacBride Museum Photo Museum Cataloguing 14 The next most immediate sphere of information surrounding an object in a museum is usually a catalogue card which provides the basic information about the artifact - a synopsis of its biography. One of my first tasks was to review this information to learn about the objects in their museum setting. The First Nations beaded artifacts in the MacBride Museum are catalogued like the thousands of other objects in the museum. Each has a 3 x 5" catalogue card which contains the categories of information. Additionally, (and in most but not all cases) a small black and white photograph of the object is attached to the card. Often, nothing more than this information about the object exists in the museum. The wall pocket is catalogued in a typical way: Object Waist Bag Catalogue Number 72.1.65a • Classification Indian artifacts Donor Gift X Purchase Loan Description Red felt with white, black, yellow, green, blue, and metalic beads, in floral design. Three section, black felt lining. Black edging with white beadwork each side, blue striped, white cotton lin(in)g. Made by Mrs. Tagish Jim. Photograph Neg. # Size L 28" W 11" H 15 Description (cont'd, on back of card) -this particular bag was possibly a sewing bag "as a every woman has a sewing bag, for sinew and other thread, sewing awls, thimble, needles, knife, perhaps scissors," etc. and "other housewifely aids", the sewing bags were rolled up and tied with a string. (McClellan 75:293) (MacBride Museum Catalogue Card, 1972) What becomes immediately evident when comparing the object and the catalogue information is that the catalogue card is incorrect in identifying the object as a "waist bag," a term which also seems to be at variance with the description on the card. This term more correctly refers to a category of things which would include costume pieces such as octopus bags, firebags, or dance aprons. It seems that the cataloguer working in the museum at the time was probably unaware of First Nations culture and ceremonial costume. Indeed he or she may have been baffled by the strangeness of some of the items and possibly had some difficulty in distinguishing some items and their purposes from others. Whatever the reason, once it has been recorded on the card it becomes very difficult for someone unfamiliar with cataloguing systems, as I was, to view the information as other than "right." In comparing similar objects and those in other museum catalogues I found that a more acceptable designation is "wall pocket," which describes the purpose of the object as well (Duncan, 1989). In the Tlingit language the item is termed [yux daku tunc* gwer] hanging up on the \mll/somevAiere bag, which not only describes its purpose but also its importance (Johnson, M. 1995). 16 Wall pockets like this one are said to have been adopted from the European culture (Duncan 1989), and their use is quite common in many cultures. Mrs. Vtedge, one of the elders I interviewed, said that they were hung up on the wall and used to store someone's "little things" like comb or razor or special little things, precious things, treasures. As noted on the catalogue card, McClellan said that these were used to store sewing implements (McClellan 1975). Both or any of these uses were very important to the seasonal home and the spartan way of life led by families at the turn of the century. The contents of such a bag would be very important to one's comfort and even survival on the trail. For these reasons the wall pocket is symbolic of a way of life. For the great majority of the items in a museum with a general collection of objects such as the MacBride Museum, the standard catalogue card certainly suffices. However, in the case of First Nations beaded items, a vital category is missing - that of "maker" or "craftsperson." In researching First Nations beaded artifacts, I quickly discovered that this particular information may well be the most important piece of information about an object. Importantly, it lends certain clues to the history and meaning of the object: it may indicate the clan and moiety of the maker and thus the clan and moiety of the person for whom it was made, the community from which it emerged, the time of its manufacture, and so on. Information such as this is vitally important in understanding the meaning of the object at the time it was produced. The object, the maker of the object, and the 17 maker's community connections are all ciosely linked together. The museum object, bereft of this information is simply an isolated, anonymous work of art, a bit of flotsam floating on the surface of another society. However, in an entry hidden in the description of this catalogue card, the maker of the wall pocket is said to be "Mrs. Tagish Jim." This information is unusual as, generally, makers are not called for or listed at all on catalogue cards; only five of the twenty-five artifacts in the study collection are ascribed to a specifically-named person. While it is important to know who made the article, there is still some difficulty with the way in which this information has been presented. This way of indicating an individual woman was quite acceptable when the item was first accessioned (in 1972 or earlier) by the museum. It was common to denote a married woman by "Mrs." followed by her husband's name. However, in the First Nations community, such a designation was not always helpful in identifying a certain individual. At the turn of the century and earlier, First Nations people in the Yukon were known in their communities by their traditional names. As well, one's identity was linked to that of their mother and maternal grandparents. With the coming of white people, during the gold rush particularly, English names were sometimes given to men by white traders and merchants with whom they worked and traded. As a further signifier, a geographic placename was sometimes 1 8 added later. The wife of a man who was named in this way was then known as "Mrs. ," rather than by her proper name which would denote her clan and family and very likely her home-place. Often confusion arose if more than one person adopted a name, or if someone changed their place of residence or became prominent for some achievement with which they then became associated. This is further complicated with the passage of time. When referring to a woman by her husband's name, other problems arose. In the event of her divorce and remarriage, a woman might take on a different man's name. Polygyny was an accepted practice in traditional society and could result in more than one woman being referred to by the same man's name. Wth increased mortality from introduced diseases and sometimes childbirth complications, serial marriages were not uncommon in First Nations communities. As a result of these potential difficulties, recording of women's names as they were on museum catalogue card systems of the day have become unreliable with the passage of time and the loss of knowledge. These then unforeseen difficulties of recording systems are the result of cultural differences and ignorance of culture differences. Women's traditional names would likely be impossible to pronounce or write for the volunteer museum worker of the time. Additionally, I think there is some evidence for the tendency in earlier times of newly-arrived white 19 people in the area to idolize certain First Nations men and women, making them larger than life, and to sometimes attribute deeds or works to those specific individuals, further adding to legend. An artifact might certainly gain value if its owner could trace it back to having belonged to or been made by a First Nations person famous in the written history. Cataloguing First Nations beaded artifacts, then, is somewhat problematic. An information system that works well for museum artifacts produced by the dominant society does not necessarily work well for other cultural objects. Pertinent information about the object is omitted or distorted through another cultural lens. The object's significance within its former cultural environment is lost, as is its present meaning and value within the museum environment. Talking to the Elders Some of the artifacts in the study group were taken on the road. Others remained on display in the museum. Still others, too fragile to travel, were left in their storage cases in the museum shelves. All had been photographed, making their images easily transportable. With several of the artifacts, some museum information, and the photos, I visited and talked with five women elders who were also beadworkers. The visits took place in the elders' homes and in the museum galleries and offices. I expected to obtain new information about the objects, some 20 clues about the makers, and in some instances, I hoped to get direct translations of the designs and figures in some of the beadwork pieces. The women's response to the subject at hand was quite unexpected and quite surprising. Rather than confining their attention to the objects, the women politely viewed them, remarked on their beauty and craftsmanship and then turned their attention to other topics, topics which were connected but certainly seemed remote from the objects themselves. I soon found that this would be the routine, and that my attempts to steer the conversation back to the objects would result in polite silence and an early end to the interview. My eager questions about designs and meanings and songs were similarly received. I realized that I would somehow have to readjust my expectations for the study to accommodate the abundance of information the elders were offering. All of the elders related stories to me. One was a mythical story about how fire was brought to the people and other such stories had to do with the stories of songs. Other stories were of a more personal nature describing the women's own life experiences and those of their parents or grandparents. One woman described how her mother as a little girl travelled over large areas of the Yukon Territory and Alaska with her father. She said that they travelled on many-day journeys often in winter, a season I thought would not have permitted such travel then or even now with cars and highways. The colourful way in which the elder told these stories 21 lent a sense of first-person immediacy to them. It was surprising to me that people didn't always live in villages year-round as they do now, but that they travelled extensively throughout the region, not just to follow the game, but for social reasons, too. One of the elders described in detail a potlatch that she had been recently involved in. This was a "big" potlatch, honouring the end of the mourning period for several deceased relatives; and several women, all heads of families, and their grown children and other relatives collaborated to put on the event. The elder described the kinds of items that people contributed to the store of things to be given away. She talked about how items were distributed. She described something of the menu and talked about how foods were distributed as well. She described how all of the hosts worked together, what their connections were to each other and the deceased, and what their "interests" in the potlatch were. As the elder spoke, she occasionally made reference to other long-ago potlatches -how things were done a long time ago, much the same except for many of the materials. Now, such things as manufactured cloth and plastic-ware have replaced furs and many of the hand-made gifts. Timing the event, she said, now had to take into account people's work schedules as well as seasonal harvesting schedules. 22 All of the women talked about their individual experiences with sewing and learning to sew and they spoke about sewing in general: what it once meant and what it means now. The women described how at different times, sewing for them proved to be an important part of their livelihood. Changes and the accompanying influx of people to the southern Yukon brought with them changes in the role of sewing and beading in the women's lives. One woman described how her mother made articles to sell to prospective miners who came with the gold-rush in 1896, and later how she herself benefitted by sewing fur hats and other items that were in popular demand by American soldiers building the Alaska Highway in 1942. Wiile each of the women talked about their own early and sometimes first experiences with sewing and beading, only one of the women spoke directly about the traditional practice of secluding young women at puberty. Although she did not relate this as her own experience, she talked about it in relation to the training young women received - how they were given large amounts of sewing to do to occupy their time in seclusion. For many women, sewing and beading became a lifetime practice (Cruikshank 1979; Thompson 1994). While the women talked about a great variety of topics - potlatch, songs and stories, puberty, the art and industry, similar objects and stories or histories connected with them - there seemed to be one common recurring theme. The women all expressed the idea that in older times, people acted properly and knew 23 how to act properly, where today people did not know how to do things properly any more. This to them seemed to be exemplified by the old beadwork pieces. In long-ago times women knew how to sew and do beadwork; now the young women no longer learn these things. And along with the loss of this kind of skill and training, many other aspects of the culture are lost: knowing how to make potlatches, and knowing the songs and stories. On my first visit to an elder at Tagish, I took with me several of the artifacts, the wall pocket among them, and photographs of the artifacts to show to her. When she had looked at the photograph of the wall pocket, she began to talk about her stepfather who was from Teslin (overland). He had had such a beautiful bag in which he kept his personal possessions. He decided one summer to return to Teslin to visit and she said he took the bag with him when he went, travelling on foot. Unfortunately, he became ill and passed away before he could return. The elder did not see her stepfather again but she remembered the wall pocket he had owned. On my second visit to this woman, I brought my mother along, an Inland Tlingit elder who was also participating in the study. I thought it would be interesting for the two women to meet and visit, however I was not prepared for the enthusiasm and vigour with which they began to relate. I had somehow overlooked something very vital which they established early in the visit: the 24 Tagish elder's stepfather and my mother's father were half-brothers. In honour of the meeting with her kinswoman, my mother began to sing some songs, among them her father's "Wolf Song." This is the story she told in explanation of how her father first made the song: He left my momma home and he went camping. He was going to set traps and he's looking for game. He's walking along on Morley Lake. That's out of Teslin. Morley Lake. The road goes there (now). He walked along and he saw this bunch of wolves coming along the lake close to the shore. He stopped and he took his pack off. He took his gun out of the case, and he watched. He sat there, and pretty soon the leader, he... they look just like dog team. He looked at it (the "dog team"). They came around the point and he let them come closer so he can have lot of chance to shoot at them. Then the leader came closer and my daddy shot and he got that one. And the other one was excited, the other ones, and they stopped and looked at the one dying. Then he shot again, he got that one, too. The other ones ran back a little bit and they climbed up on the bank of a rock cliff, (a) point. He ran up there and he stopped, looking for the other ones. Daddy shot again. He got that one, too. And the other ones went. He sat there for a while and (he's) thinking what he's going to do. "Oh, the best to camp here," he thought. Then he. camped, made camp, cut a lot of wood. Then he fixed up his camp, and he dragged the wolves over to the fire, where he's going to skin them. Then he started skinning. And he, when he was skinning, it was getting dark, then he, he hears the other ones calling behind the camp up on the hill. They're howling just like dogs. That means they're just calling the other ones that's dead. Oo-hoo-oo-w. Then he listened to that and he thinks of his brothers. He lost two of them in one year. They, his brothers passed away. One his name [Kol gash] and the other one is [Ku ch'is], well their English names, one is Sam, Sam Fox, the other one is Henry, Henry Fox. Then he thinks about them. The way the wolves are howling, he thinks about his brothers going away. He thought to himself, "that's the way those wolves feel, too." The way they're lonesome and howling. Then, he started singing. That's why he made the song up. Shall I sing it? (Song...)3 3Interview with Mrs. Johnson, Whitehorse, Yukon, October, 1993. In the original interview, Mrs. Johnson told the story i n Tl i n g i t and I later asked her to translate. This i s part of that transcription. Mrs. Johnson's style of speaking i n short 25 It seemed to me then that in a roundabout way, the wall pocket had really proven to be a kind of song sheet after all. Discussion and Conclusions I want to take up three points of discussion in this part of the thesis. These are not in order of importance. First, I would like to talk about objects, First Nations beaded(work) objects residing in museums, how they are treated in museums and how they might be treated differently to meet the goals of museums as institutions engaged in preserving culture and providing education and enlightenment. Secondly, I would like to return to the point of origin (figuratively speaking) of the beaded artifacts and talk about women's work. Here I would like to reflect upon the themes which emerged as the elders/beadworkers talked about their lives. Lastly, I want to look at the much broader picture of societal/cultural change and to note some of the changes and what they may mean in light of current efforts to reclaim our First Nations culture. sentences, emphasizing certain words and phrases, and interrupting herself, i s i n keeping with the action sequence of the story. Mrs. Johnson also accompanies her t e l l i n g with hand and body gestures that help to portray her father's changing moods and the actions and the movements of the wolves. 26 Objects in Museums The objects themselves are beautiful and mysterious. \Ne have only clues to their uses and meanings, their place in the lives of people in the past century. Long time ago, things could say: who you were, what clan you belonged to, and how therefore you relate to me, and likely where you came from - what part of the Yukon, coast, or wherever. When that was established, you could make connections between the person and their deeds or the deeds of someone who was connected to them. The material culture, the things, cannot just be taken for themselves - they are 'written' history of ways of life. The objects were once embedded in the traditional culture and are now embedded in the museum culture. How are these different? How has the meaning of the objects changed? People created the things for a purpose - they enacted or said something: they could represent history, and they represented codes of law that were understood by members of the society. Their life in the museum means they no longer say the things they once said. That life is limited to their own mysterious physical embodiment on display and to a small card, a catalogue entry. The pieces that were once displayed by individuals as part of those individuals' lives and histories are now displayed as museum artifacts. But taking the pieces back out to the elders doesn't bring back or recreate that missing information in the same way. However, these things can still be read and 27 understood by the elders as meaningful of past and present ways of life. It is a process of giving voice to things. Artifacts are devices for stimulating elders to talk about many things - they don't always talk about the objects themselves, but often talk about things far afield. What do these connections mean? Beaded objects reside in many of the museums of North America, collected during the salvage era when collectors were intent upon obtaining artifacts of cultures thought to be in danger of imminent disappearance. Often a sampling of such items is displayed in special "First Peoples" galleries or exhibits. Accompanying them is the sparsely-worded description of their provenance and utility. Many more pieces still, reside in storage rooms and containers, waiting to be dealt with in some way - researched perhaps, or just simply left there forever. First Nations beaded artifacts in museums can no longer be regarded as objects of simple curiosity or as reminders of a long-departed past. They can no longer be locked away as treasures whose uses will someday be recognized and revived. Such objects once conveyed great power of meaning in earlier cultures, and they continue to do so in their changed state and in the changed state of present-day society. But to be allowed to do so, they need to be brought out into the light, they need to be brought out to the elders where they can be savoured and reminisced over. They have great power in inspiring the elders to speak and to teach about the old ways, to provide those links with the past that may inspire 28 younger women and men to recapture for themselves the cultural pride that continues to dwell within the artifacts. During the course of my project with the MacBride Museum, I had the occasion of bringing out several of the pieces to elders' gatherings in the Southern Yukon. At both of these events, elders were much moved by the presence of the objects, moved and excited. One man rejoiced that the items were kept in Whitehorse rather than in Ottawa as he had thought. At the Brooks Brook Elders' Gathering in 1994,4 the artifacts were displayed one evening in the conference tent, As the elders gathered around to view the collection and accompanying photographs and slides, a tactful suggestion to avoid touching the artifacts was enthusiastically disregarded by some of the usually very composed elders as they excitedly examined the pieces. The collection remained a topic of conversation for days to come and the news was even carried back to other elders at home in the community. It is important that institutions and agencies look for ways to meet and match the enthusiasm of the elders that is surely there. In past years, interest has been focused on resolving land claims and self government agreements in the Yukon as elsewhere, and First Nations communites have had little time to consider 4This gathering included First Nations elders from a l l Yukon communities who met to discuss important social issues and also to socialize. -Such a gathering of elders usually occurs annually. 29 such topics as heritage planning. VWh new agreements in place, however, increased attention is sure to be given these important subjects, as they are now also being included in other First Nations claims. Recently the landmark agreement in principle reached by the Nisga'a people called for the repatriation of several hundred artifacts located in federal and provincial museums.5 Is repatriation a solution? Politically, repatriation is a priority for First Nations the world over. Should things be repatriated unquestionably? It's easy to condemn past wrongs and brutalities and to make this the basis for the wholesale repatriation of objects. I somehow feel that the elders' message is that we need to move away from such premises in order to move ahead to more urgent business. Repatriation of things and of knowledge are inseparable and it seems this knowledge is still there and still available, at least for the time being. Taking back objects is important but so too, is reclaiming the knowledge and history of our ancestors. There aren't any quick and easy solutions. 5The Land Claims Agreement-in-Principle between the Nisga'a Tribal Council and the Federal and Provincial Governments was signed on March 22, 1996, at New Aiyansh, B.C. Women's Work 3 0 Much of my own attention and thinking was focused on learning and understanding about the lives of women in these early times. Why did women make the things they did? It is such very fine work, very fine embroidery. What might have driven them to work so painstakingly at such time-consuming work? Women had lots of outside work to do. Except in daylight hours, they had poor lighting. They had to make do with some of their equipment. They had to share some vital tools like scissors and pencils. They didn't have eyeglasses readily available if they were needed. In order to do this work they had to be highly motivated. I constantly questioned, what had their motivation been? Things were made to be used for ceremonial purposes - to be displayed and to be given at potlatches. The potlatch is a cultural institution which I believe provides a model for every other kind of interpersonal behavior in the society. It was the way not only of redistribution of goods but a way of acknowledging social debts and making retribution and repayment, a way of social restoration. This is evident in the regular giving of gifts to others and opposites. Things were made and given across moiety lines. Women sewed for and dressed up their husbands, and quietly stayed in the background. And more formally, women made beaded articles for giveaways at potlatches. Working over a period of a year or two years, they were able to amass a large supply of such articles for an upcoming potlatch. 31 Later as retail goods became more available, things like moccasins and other handmade items were replaced by cloth, dishes, and other manufactured goods, although the rules and prerogratives of giving remained unchanged. When women were confined in puberty shelters long ago, they were given sewing to do. Many elders who experienced this became habitual sew-ers. They could not be without their sewing kits for any length of time. Sewing is tied up with being a proper woman, and with being a woman. Wth the disappearance of old customs, sewing is also a disappearing art, and the elders see also the young women of today, and the young people in general, going in the wrong ways. They believe that departure from the old ways is what's making our society so troubled today. Changes to the economy came with the influx of the white population. Women's work and their roles in society changed to conform with the new white society. The production of beaded and other objects became part of a larger economy created by the influx of white people. Things were made commercially for sale to new markets which were based on both the practical needs of incoming individuals and the tastes of private and institutional collectors. Women were called upon to produce more goods more rapidly in exchange for money, while at the same time they were being exposed to and taken in by a society that favoured 32 women's leisure (Klein 1980). In earlier times, women were prized for their ability to work (Cruikshank 1990; Emmons 1991). I came to understand that sewing and beadwork were very important to women for whatever reason. This is evidenced by the somewhat difficult conditions under which women did this kind of work. Sewing and beadwork requires intense concentration - it is not something that can be done while doing something else. Camp life does not lend itself well to sedentariness since much of the daily routine requires physical activity - carrying wood and water, tending infants and young children and sometimes older family members, and collecting and preparing food. Yet women appear to have dedicated significant amounts of time to beading and sewing. It is true that after white settlement, women made articles for sale to the new market, but often this income only supplemented that which came from other family sources, and at the same time took away valuable time from food-gathering activities as well. Objects were also intended as art in the sense that they were illustrations of feeling, (which was also expressed in song), things to be seen, creating splashes of intense colour in an otherwise drab landscape. There were times to be seen as opposed to times not to be seen. To have been the makers of such finery would have been a source of satisfaction and pride. I began to understand that women were driven to make things, they were inspired, they envisioned beautiful works of 33 art, and they created them. Such articles have long been viewed as "crafts," and the women who made them as simply anonymous "makers" or craftspersons. Just as men who carved and painted and left such works of art as totem poles and murals and house posts, women were also "artists" who for their skills and talent, were acclaimed by their own. Cultural Change and Reclamation Cultural change has been a dramatic and at times violent series of events for the people of the southern Yukon Territory. It is evident in great change that has characterized the role of beadwork objects in the society. These ceremonial objects were made, then they were worn for a purpose (they did or said something), and they were passed down from one generation to another through moiety lines. Now they are prized as objects of art, or as museum objects. In tracing the "lives" of objects, we see this evolution. What does it mean? In a graphic sense it illustrates how objects have floated up to the surface of the dominant society, have lost all their original meaning, and are now quite uselessly suspended on the surface. Instead of being a ceremonial adornment, they have become an adornment to another society-a piece of art in the dominant society, a thing to hang on the wall. Their transition reflects the changes to the traditional ways of life which are quite irretrievably gone. The former contextual environments of the objects have fallen away. 34 Cultural change too is expressed in the words of the elders, a lament perhaps for a culture lost. All of the women I talked to in the course of this project acknowledged at some time or another that these are some very troubled times for young First Nations people and First Nations people in general. They suggested that younger people don't know anything about the old ways of doing things. People, they thought, seem to be without morals, they no longer understand how to be or become good people. Children were being raised improperly, not learning the values of the old ways. The elders said that in old times, people knew how to be happy and have fun without alcohol or drugs. People did not rely on things like television for entertainment. They knew how to make potlatches and how to sing the songs, and how to be proud and dignified. The women attributed all of this trouble to the loss of the old ways-people no longer knew who they were in terms of their lineage and consequently married improperly within moieties. Young women were not being trained properly and thus lost the ability to foster healthy homes and families. Young men were getting in trouble with the law because they no longer knew the old ways of becoming men. Their message was very strong -that young people must return to the old ways; we have to find ways for this to become possible. Elders strongly feel their responsibility to teach young people and are becoming increasingly willing to support and adopt new methods in order to do this. Today, elders are very busily engaged in conferences and elders councils, and they can be seen on televisions shows, at story-telling festivals and other events. 35 When studying ancient beadwork artifacts, it becomes apparent that there is much more to consider than simply the objects themselves. We may learn something about the objects and their original context, but more importantly, such objects have the capacity to bring to life the knowledge and teaching of the elders. To do so, they need to become the focus of social interaction and 'use.' Bringing objects and people together as a focus of study evokes information and knowledge about cultures of the past and cultures of the present. In the presence of elders, museum objects may be regarded as powerful tools for teaching and learning about our own First Nations culture and history. In reflecting back on my earlier research goals, I saw that I began by looking for a snapshot of a culture 'frozen in time' and learned instead that there is no such view available, certainly not one that is useful. Knowing about culture is more than simply knowing about time and place. Culture changes kaleidoscopically and everything is connected. Beadwork is connected to history, story and song, and they are all connected to life, to people. I learned about my own culture not having known a lot about it when I began. What does this mean in terms of reclaiming my own culture, and what can it mean for others, for the younger people? Where I had only seen the tangible side of the culture before, for example, how to obtain and prepare food from the land, now I was being shown the intangible side - being led into a world of feeling, emotion, understanding - able to make the connection between the world and myself as an individual within the culture. Is this learning 36 the culture? I learned too, that cultural change is a reality, and that cultures and cultural ways survive beyond their older discarded practices, that teachings continue and that there are new ways to be found and adopted in conveying them. I found that the elders knew this too. 37 Bibliography Clifford, James 1989 Interview with Brian Wallis, "The Global Issue: A Symposium: in Art in America (July):86-87 and 152-53. Cruikshank, Julie 1979 Athapaskan Women: Lives and Legends Ottawa: National Museums of Canada 1991 Reading Voices: Oral and Written Interpretations of the Yukon's Past Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre 1995 "Imperfect Translations: Rethinking Objects of Ethnographic Collections" in Museum Anthropology, 19(1):25-38 American Anthropological Association Cruikshank, Julie, in collaboration with Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith, and Annie Ned 1990 Life Lived Like a Story Lincoln: U. of Nebraska Press Duncan, Kate C. 1989 Northern Athapaskan Art: A Beadwork Tradition Seattle and London: U. of Washington Press Emmons, George Thornton 1991 The Tlingit Indians, ed. Frederica De Laguna Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre Johnson, Ingrid 1994 Southern Yukon Beadwork Traditions: A Research Report prepared for the MacBride Museum Whitehorse: unpub. Johnson, Mabel (1906-) 1995, 1993 Interviews, Southern Yukon Beadwork Traditions Research Project, sound recordings and transcripts Whitehorse: MacBride Museum 38 Klein, Laura F. 1980 "Contending with Colonization: Tlingit Men and Women in Change" in Women & Colonization. Anthropological Perspectives Etienne & Leacock, eds. J.F. Bergin Pub. Kopytoff, Igor 1986 "The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process" in the The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, ed. Arjun Appadurai Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press McClellan, Catharine 1975 My Old People Say An Ethnographic Survey of Southern Yukon Territory, Part 1 and 2 Ottawa: National Museums of Canada 1987 Part of the Land. Part of the Water: A History of Yukon Indians Vancouver: Douglas & Mclntyre Rosaldo, R. 1989 "Imperialist Nostalgia" in Cultural Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis Boston: Beacon Press Sarris, Greg 1993 Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts Berkeley: U. of California Press Sturtevant, William C. 1981 Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 6 Subarctic Washington: Smithsonian Institution 1990 Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7 Northwest Coast Washington: Smithsonian Institution Thompson, Judy 1994 From the Land: Two Hundred Years of Dene Clothing Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization 


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