Culture, economy, legacies

by Yule Heibel on September 29, 2003

I’ve mentioned before, in a comment I think, that my son is currently taking this First Nations Studies course through S.I.D.E.S.. It’s not an undemanding course; here’s something that came up today:

Exercise 3.4:
The following two passages show two different attitudes toward the natural world. The first describes a ritual of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The second is a passage from the Bible. What do these examples suggest about differences in world view?

Example A

The First Salmon Ceremony is a ritual that every First Nations group on the Northwest Coast developed in some form. For a typical Kwakwaka’wakw fisherman, the following ritual was followed. The first nine fish were clubbed only once so that they were not quite dead. While he prayed, he threaded them onto a hoop which he wore home. He then placed the ring on a cedar bark mat and passed them over to his wife. With ritualized movements, she cut the fish with a slate knife and said her own prayer:

Thank you Swimmers, you Supernatural Ones,
that you have come to save our lives,
mine and my husband’s
that we may not die of hunger, you Long-Life-Maker.
Only protect us that nothing evil may befall us
you, Rich-Maker-Woman,
and this also, that we may meet again next year,
good, great Supernatural Ones. (Stewart 164)

Example B

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful,
and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air,
and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth!
(Genesis 1:28)

To make it real, the course text also asks the student to consider how these two visions of the natural world inflect a group’s economies: “The world view of any culture is intimately tied to its economy.”

A PS: a week ago I heard that Aube Breton, Andre Breton’s daughter, came to British Columbia to return a ceremonial headdress stolen from the ‘Namgis First Nation in 1921. It had found its way into her famous authoritarian surrealist father’s favoured fetishes collection. As reported on CBC Radio One on Sept. 22:

In 1921, the Canadian government confiscated a traditional headdress from the ‘Namgis First Nation who were refusing to abide by the potlach laws banning traditional Native ceremonies. The headdress was sold repeatedly before landing in the hands of poet and surrealist Andre Breton. Last night, his daughter Aube Breton-Ellouet, returned the headdress to the ‘Namgis people. Bill Cranmer is the Chief of the ‘Namgis First Nation. He spoke to us from Alert Bay, British Columbia.

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