Research

Sovereign Culture: Stó:lō Cultural Heritage and Political Activism in the Twentieth Century

Though scholars have often perceived of sovereignty in purely territorial and capital-p political terms, this is not a useful way to understand the concept when it comes to Indigenous nations. Both earlier and certainly throughout the twentieth century, Stó:lō communities of what is now south-western British Columbia saw no distinction between the political and cultural heritage practices that affirmed their sovereign relationships with Stó:lō Téméxw, a coalescence this dissertation refers to as “cultural sovereignty.” Stó:lō practices of cultural curation—the process of taking care of tangible and intangible heritage—were deeply connected to Stó:lō political organization and territorial management throughout the twentieth century. Additionally, Stó:lō cultural sovereignty during this period sometimes manifested as a gendered phenomenon, with women and men alternately enacting cultural sovereignty in distinct ways that corresponded to Stó:lō and sometimes settler gender ideologies. Stó:lō resistance to settler colonialism was not only a protest of land acquisition, it was also an attempt to protect Stó:lō cultural heritage from settler colonial appropriation. Moreover, this research contends that the settler move to appropriate Stó:lō cultural heritage must be seen as part of the colonial project of dispossession. Reconciliation in Indigenous-settler relationships, then, must include not only discussions relating to restitution of land, but also of cultural heritage.

In making these arguments, this research contributes to scholarly conversations about Indigenous sovereignty, cultural heritage, and Stó:lō histories, and contributes to the fields of history, Indigenous studies, and museology. Its methodological approach comes from work in Indigenous research methodology, feminist oral history, and what is being called “new ethnohistory” or community-engaged methodology. The research process itself combined archival investigation, original oral history interviews, and field work. An intersectional feminist lens framed the analysis of that research. Chapters examine sequential eras during the twentieth century, focusing on particular case studies to analyze changes and continuities in historical examples of Stó:lō cultural sovereignty.

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