It was only a quick trip into the Village for used shorts, since I refuse to pay good money for clothing I don't need to look good in - actually I have a hard time spending money on clothes period, but that's perhaps a story best left for another time - with a deliberate decision NOT to scour the book zone. And yet there on the till, when I went to pay for my grandpa-style Gap tweedy shorts, rather oversized, was Wilson Duff's 1964 classic The Indian History of British Columbia: Volume 1, The Impact of the White Man. The then-Provincial Museum of BC (now the Royal BCM) published it in its memoir series "Anthropology in British Columbia," and it's remained important since. It's been on my radar for a while, but I hadn't bumped into it yet.
Why important? Early in the introduction, for example, Duff pointedly and powerfully challenges the whole foundation of colonialism, the claim that the First Nations had no "ownership" to set against the ownership proposed by Europeans:
It is not correct to say that the Indians did not "own" the land but only roamed over the face of it and "used" it. The patterns of ownership and utilization which they imposed on the lands and waters were different from those recognized by our system of law, but were nonetheless clearly defined and mutually respected. (p.8)And yet the Supreme Court of Canada has once again had to rule on this matter in relation to fisheries in British Columbia. The justices have once again insisted that it's fully within the Constitution to have a native-only fishery, that such a thing doesn't reduce the rights of other Canadians, and good for them, but 44 years ago, an anthropologist thought it a resolved enough matter than it needed only a mention in the book's intro, rather than a dedicated chapter. Duff's basic assumptions, while still somewhat dated, represent a significant move forward from the previous narratives of decline and debates about authenticity. And Duff's own story is itself complicated indeed.
If I'd seen this book on the shelves, I'd have taken it home no matter the cost, but waiting for me on the till for only ninety-nine cents? Karma, I guess, though I certainly haven't done anything to deserve it.