dissertation

My dissertation research explores the connections between cultural curation and political activism in Stó:lō communities. Spanning the twentieth century, this work addresses key moments in the history of encounters between Stó:lō and anthropologists, colonial agents, and other newcomers who sought to control, reshape, or alter Stó:lō cultural heritage practices and protocols. Despite these attempts, Stó:lō retained significant forms of power over their cultural heritage, negotiating their relationships with museums and colonial institutions in surprising and productive ways.

Adopting an ethnohistorical methodology informed by new scholarship on feminist anticolonial praxis, this research relies on oral history interviews and archival evidence collected over the course of a number of years living in Stó:lō territory (BC’s Fraser Valley). This approach contributes back to the field by allowing for discussion of the politics and pragmatics of conducting community-based research, and engaging deeply with questions of the compatibility of oral testimony and archival evidence.

The dissertation is framed by the sustained discussion of one object: a shovel-nosed canoe carved by Chief William Sepass in 1915. Analysis of the ways Stó:lō and settlers treat the canoe at given moments in its history serve as successive introductory vignettes, foregrounding ideas germane to each chapter, and simultaneously anchoring the reader’s experience with a concrete demonstration how the curation of Stó:lō heritage has changed over time. Chapters themselves explore numerous themes: how relationships between missionaries and Stó:lō chiefs and elders in the early decades of the twentieth century complicated Stó:lō political organization; the sometimes fraught, sometimes productive interactions between Stó:lō communities and anthropologists such as Diamond Jenness, Casey Wells, Wilson Duff, Marian Smith, and Wayne Suttles from the ’30s to the ’60s; the collaborative work of Chilliwack Museum staff and Stó:lō people in the 1960s, highlighting Chief Richard Malloway’s contributions to the museum board, and Amy Cooper and Oliver Wells’ work to create the Salish Weavers’ Guild; Stó:lō efforts in the 1970s to take back the contested Coqualeetza site from the Armed Forces, and to establish it as a cultural heritage site in the 1980s; and a campaign by Stó:lō and non-Indigenous activists to save an archaeological and spiritual site, at the same time as Stó:lō tribal governance was going through major transformation. The narrative concludes by assessing the Sepass family’s 2011 request to “bring home” their ancestor’s canoe from the Chilliwack Museum to the Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Center, the most recent example in this history of Stó:lō affirmations of the sovereignty of their cultural curation.

While the examination of the long history of Stó:lō cultural curation not only complicates prevailing assumptions in museum studies and public history that Indigenous/non-Indigenous heritage collaborations are a product of the 1990s, analysis of these cross-cultural projects also reveals the complexities of allyship between Indigenous peoples and settlers. In these ways, and by arguing for broadened understandings of both “culture” and “politics,” this work also furthers the fields of Native-newcomer and twentieth century British Columbian histories.

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