The Fort Langley Journals, 1827-30. Morag Maclachlan, ed. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 1998. 280 pp. (in press 1999, American Anthropologist). Reviewed by Brian Thom, PhD Student, Dept. of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec
Fort Langley was established on the Fraser River in the spring of 1827 by a small outfit of Hudson's Bay Company employees. The location of the Fort on the lower Fraser set these HBC families in the midst of a complex network of at least 26 Coast Salish communities. From this unique perspective, the Fort Langley Journals are able to provide important insight into issues central to Northwest Coast ethnography and to major themes in anthropology. The Journals contain some of the earliest statements on Northwest Coast wealth and potlatching, accounts of women's roles in trade and inter-tribal negotiations, details of the roles and limitations on the power of leaders, and some sense of the rules and regularities in warfare and slavery. They record details of the low salmon year of 1828, which challenge traditional ethnographic generalizations of the Northwest Coast societies having developed from an unlimited abundance of salmon. All of these issues are followed closely by senior Northwest Coast scholar Wayne Suttles, who gives a penetrating and insightful reading of the Journals for their ethnographic significance.
Maclachlan, a historian, introduces the Journals and gives extensive biographical reviews of the company men and some of the Native leaders who figure prominently in the Journals. Throughout the introduction and the Journals' texts, she produces complete references of the secondary historical literature and closely follows relevant primary sources such as outgoing letters and the logs of nearby ships, to give a rich historical context to the documents. For the final quarter of the volume, Suttles discusses the history of ethnography in the area, provides background on the Native residents and seasonal visitors, covers aspects of domestic life from appearance and dress, to houses and canoes, to traditional subsistence. He draws substantially on his own work to develop a picture of social groups, leadership, kinship and ceremony, including the potlatch. Finally, he covers wealth, commerce, war and slavery. Suttles' section amounts to a concise ethnography of the Coast Salish, well supported by historical evidence from the Journals and other significant sources.
This publication of the Fort Langley Journals has great potential to make important contributions to contemporary Coast Salish communities as evidence for Aboriginal rights and title cases. Suttles is clearly aware of this audience and has been careful to draw out his explication on points which may be useful to such cases. For instance, Suttles' section on aboriginal trade and economy bears directly on the question of the presence of a complex pre-contact trade system (195, 206-8), which was the central question in a recent Canadian court case (R. v. Van der Peet) over commercial aboriginal fishing rights. Had this explication of the Journals been available at that trial, is it possible a more clear ethnohistoric argument could have been made in favour of an aboriginal commercial fishery.
The Journals also provide some insight into the currently contentious issue of the "traditional territories" of Aboriginal groups in southwest British Columbia. There are many unresolved territory overlaps which now contribute to difficulties in negotiations of contemporary treaties. Two cases which are commented on explicitly in the Journals, and very carefully contextualized by Suttles, include the overlap between the Musqueam and the Squamish (33, 75, 173) and the seasonal villages of the Nanaimo, Saanich and Cowichan on the Fraser River, claimed today by the Musqueam, Burrard, Tsawwassen, Katzie and Stó:l. From this evidence in the Journals, it is clear that the lower Fraser was an area of shared use. This gives Suttles material to posit aboriginal common law rights to shared land use (169) and aboriginal strategies for challenging exclusive claims to land (ie: the Cowichan threats of attack on the Kwantlen, 122, 202). He is also careful to provide reasons as to why some kinds of information - like the lack of information on gathering (184) or the failure of the Company men to mention some of the now-well-known communities - are not contained in the Journal.
One problem of interpretation that the Journals pose is what to make of the social organization of the groups of people identified as 'tribes'. In Suttles' commentary on social organization, they are simply described as villages or groups of villages which acted together for defence (185). However, the Coast Salish identified themselves and their neighbours with these tribal names (as opposed to village or household names), suggesting that they indicate more than merely a unit of defence. Suttles does not refer to tribes as having land tenure in his section on social organization, but elsewhere in his text he refers to these 'tribes' as having distinct territories (i.e.: 169-171, 196). Such land tenure may be a significant aspect of 'tribal' organization, but this implication is not explored with evidence from the Journals or other sources. Given the highly shared use of the fishing resources along the Fraser by visiting groups, the tenure of 'tribal territories' was not likely exclusive. The question of the composition of these 'tribes' is also unclear from Suttles' discussion. In a fascinating early census done by Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, the local 'tribes' are named with Suttles providing the modern 'tribal' equivalents where he can, with others, particularly on the lower Fraser before Hell's Gate, not given at all (219-221). Some of these are recognizable names of villages usually referred to as being in the 'Tait tribe', (ie: Skam = sqám; Whuaquum = lexwyáqwm; Kullulluctons = llíkytl), while identification of the others would involve further investigation. If communities were identifying themselves to the census-taker as either a tribal group, or a single village, what also does this say about the constituency of Coast Salish 'tribes'?
Another problem is Maclachlan's presumption that scurvy, due to a lack of Vitamin C was the cause of illness among the fur traders during their first few months. The Journal records that the food stores had run out, forcing the men to endure an all-salmon diet (247). Although not a rich source, an all-salmon diet would provide at least 10 mg of Vitamin C per day, more than enough to protect from scurvy. More likely, a rapid shift from a mixed diet to a predominantly protein diet would more likely cause ketosis and ketonuria, as pointed out by Draper some years ago in American Anthropologist (1977, 79:312). Other small problems such as a few bibliographic errors (Kew 1996 for Kew 1992 on p. 179 and 260; date missing from Quimby reference on p. 270) and an index which does not thoroughly list every occurrence of the Native groups mentioned, do little to mare this otherwise fine publication of an important historical source on early Northwest Coast life.