Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Living on the Edge: Nuu-Chah-Nulth History from an Ahousaht Chief's Perspective

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Living on the Edge: Nuu-Chah-Nulth History from an Ahousaht Chief's Perspective

Article excerpt

Chief Earl Maquinna George, Living on the Edge: Nuu-Chah-Nulth History from an Ahousaht Chief's Perspective (Winlaw BC, Sono Nis Press, 2003), 154pp. Paper. $19.95. ISBN 1-55039-143-7.

This memoir by a hereditary chief of the Ahousaht First Nation of Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island recalls a vanished way of life for a unique, complex and culturally-rich hunter-gatherer civilisation undermined by a few generations of European control. Born in 1926, after a lifetime adapting to the commercialisation of his homelands, Chief Earl enrolled in his sixties at the University of Victoria to gain under- and post-graduate degrees in history and geography. He recounts without rancour how traditional village lifestyles succumbed to the Indian Act, which reduced his people to government charges on unsustainable reserves, sending their children to government residential schools to be trained in modern skills, while the lands and seas they formerly foraged were taken into public ownership and leased to commercial undertakings.

We are shown how Ahousaht traditional beliefs are inextricably bound up with a way of life based on respect for a rich but vulnerable ecosystem, in which cultural attitudes towards property reflect the realities of foraging. HaHuulhi, the term the Ahousaht First Nation use to encapsulate their communal rights to land and water resources, sits uncomfortably alongside the concept of heritable property used in farming communities. …

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