Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Together We Survive: Ethnographic Intuition, Friendship, and Conversations

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Together We Survive: Ethnographic Intuition, Friendship, and Conversations

Article excerpt

John S. Long and Jennifer S. H. Brown (eds.), Together We Survive: Ethnographic Intuition, Friendship, and Conversations. Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2016. 312 pages. ISBN 978-0-7735-4611-0. $34.95 paperback.

In Together We Survive, Richard Preston describes a life well lived as an orchestra of meaningful encounters. "Those meanings in life cohere," he says; "they cohere in terms of past/future ... as an aesthetic whole. ... It is like a painting, or a poem, or a piece of music ..." (253). Consisting of chapters written by Preston's former students, friends, colleagues, and family, as well as Preston himself, Together We Survive, edited by J.S. Long and J.S.H Brown, presents compositions inspired by Preston's orchestra. Each chapter is a contemplation and communication of Preston's applied and humanist teachings.

The book begins with a fast paced narrative of the history of Cree territory, starting in Waskaganish (southeastern James Bay) around the time of early contact with European fur traders. The narrative quickly expands outwards in space and time. Intertwined is the story of Preston's development as a scholar, from student to teacher, but also eternally a thoughtful student. The subsequent chapters are divided into four sections, respectively titled "making a living, changing community," "images, textures, dreams, and identity," "songs and narratives," and "indigenous rights, compassion, and peace." Spanning these sections are themes of economy and material culture (chapters one through four), spirituality and identity (chapters five, six, seven, and ten), and Indigenous rights (chapters one, eight, and nine). While the bulk of the book focuses on Cree culture and history in and around James Bay, two chapters expand the geographic and topical scope. Chapter eight discusses Canada's initial rejection of the United Nation's Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and how the author's work and activism with UNDRIP are rooted in Richard Preston's teachings. The concluding chapter (ten) expands further. A transcribed conversation between Preston and a former student, this chapter dances between Preston's experiences in the Korean War, James Bay, and his Quaker community. It covers topics of peacemaking, mythology, and life's meanings. While a coda, it is no last act. Preston discusses his future work on peace mythologies.

Preston has always done research addressing contemporary social problems. Each chapter in Together We Survive attempts the same, whether it be in exploring how Crees and southerners co-created a wage economy in James Bay in the 1960s and 1970s (chapter one), historical analysis linking changes in domestic space to contemporary social problems (chapter two), or analysis of mid-to-late twentieth century cultural revitalization (chapter five). In several cases, however, I found myself looking for more detailed discussion of contemporary issues. How, for example, could the historical analysis inform contemporary debates about northern development in light of Quebec's comprehensive development plan, Le Plan Nord? …

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