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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Life lived like a story : cultural constructions of life history by Tagish and Tutchone women Cruikshank, Julie


This thesis is based on collaborative research conducted over ten years with three elders of Athapaskan/Tlingit ancestry, in the southern Yukon Territory, Canada Mrs. Angela Sidney, Mrs. Kitty Smith and Mrs. Annie Ned are also authors of this document because their oral accounts of their lives are central to the discussion. One volume examines issues of method and ethnographic writing involved in such research and analyses the accounts provided by these women; a second volume presents their accounts, in their own words, in three appendices. The thesis advanced here is that life history offers two distinct contributions to anthropology. As a method, it provides a model based on collaboration between participants rather than research 'by' an anthropologist 'on' the community. As ethnography, it shows how individuals may use the traditional dimension of culture as a resource to talk about their lives, and explores the extent to which it is possible f or anthropologists to write ethnography grounded in the perceptions and experiences of people whose lives they describe. Narrators provide complex explanations for their experiences and decisions in metaphoric language, raising questions about whether anthropological categories like 'individual', 'society' and 'culture' are uniquely bounded units. The analysis focusses on how these women attach central importance to traditional stories (particularly those with female protagonists), to named landscape features, to accounts of travel, and to inclusion of incidents from the lives of others in their narrated 'life histories'. Procedures associated with both life history analysis and the analysis of oral tradition are used to consider the dynamics of narration. Particular attention is paid to how these women use oral tradition both to talk about the past and to continue to teach younger people appropriate behavior in the present. The persistence of oral tradition as a system of communication and information in the north when so much else has changed suggests that expressive forms like story telling contribute to strategies for adapting to social, economic and cultural change.

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