ed. by Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Jennifer Kramer, and Ḳi-ḳe-in. University of British Columbia Press, August 2012. 1120 p. ill. ISBN 9780774820493 (cl.), $195.00.

Reviewed January 2014
Michelle Paquette, Circulation, Periodicals, and Reserves Specialist, Frick Fine Arts Library, mmp11@pitt.edu

This work is an anthology, akin to improvisational jazz – embroidered around a core theme – but allowing every contributor remarkable latitude, creativity, and individuality. Subtitled “a history of changing ideas,” it indeed questions many long-held assumptions in the field, and posits fresh notions on contemporaneity. It also works to suggest what might be appropriate, respectful, and well- informed means of appreciating, sharing, and studying ceremonial objects, and the Native Northwest cultures which imbued them with life.

The book’s organization does not obligate the user to rigidly progress through its offerings, as it does not adhere to strict chronology. Rather, it lends itself to being consulted in sections, based on the needs or interests of the reader. In fact, the editors have structured the book like an invitation to open and search for answers. Invariably, the reader will find some and often they will be surprising and rewarding.

The writers, curators, leaders, and artists who participated in the creation of this book use both scholarship as well as their personal experiences of the Pacific Northwest as their platform. However, readers from disciplines as disparate as political science and ethnography, art history and law, museum studies and archival education could all benefit from essays in this volume. Its cautions, challenges, consciousness-raising efforts, corrections, and admonishments are relevant well beyond its stated focus. It is rare indeed that one encounters a book with the capacity to make the reader feel woefully uninformed, while simultaneously tempering with the unflinchingly illustrative personal narratives of Native elders, Haida manga, and thought-provoking arguments on cultural patrimony.

Particularly refreshing is this volume’s thorough lack of reliance on any discipline-specific jargon. While eminently erudite, and consummately professional, the book’s voices are straightforward and accessible to a wide range of readers. Primary source excerpts are often embedded in contributors’ essays, rather than relegated to distant notes. Nothing lends impact to an academic argument quite like being placed alongside the banal racism of a missionary’s diary entry, or the blunt force trauma of a bureaucrat’s decree.

To the degree that any criticism can be made of this volume, it would only be that its sheer size may deter the casual observer who sees it on a shelf. This would truly be a shame, since its wealth of information, multiplicity of perspectives, diversity of opinion, and review of historical literature would make it a terrific resource for any library.

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