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The First Nations of British Columbia: An Anthropological Overview. Third Edition

By Robert J. Muckle

Review By Christine Elsey

March 3, 2015

BC Studies no. 188 Winter 2015-2016  | p. 107-08

Despite its slim size (the main body of text is only 117 pages), The First Nations of British Columbia: An Anthropological Overview is a useful primer for those hoping to learn the basic issues relevant to British Columbia First Nations. Accessible to a wide and diverse readership, this book provides a broad overview of key topics and issues for introductory readers. While light on ethnography and BC First Nations anthropology, the concise and updated text of this third edition is well suited as an entry-level resource for students seeking exposure to First Nations topics.

The book is divided into six parts and a number of useful appendices. Part One offers an overview of the book’s intent while illustrating topics such as how First Nations have been approached by outsiders, the problem of stereotypes, the impact of colonization, the importance of indigenous art forms, and the uncovering of colonial contradictions. Part Two situates First Nations people in British Columbia within Canadian and North American contexts while briefly summarizing questions of Nationhood and relations between First Nations and the wider Canadian state. Part Three provides a concise overview of BC archaeological sites while summarizing prehistory and the archaeological record. Part Four covers some key aspects of First Peoples’ ethnography but only briefly mentions topics such as diet, settlement, and spirituality. More could have been provided about social organization, clans, house groups, and kinship systems, which are essential to understanding questions of contemporary ethnography and applied anthropology. And while ceremonies play a key role across First Nations communities, they barely feature here. Part Five, perhaps the strongest section of the book, summarizes First Nations’ responses to colonization and settlement and provides a deft overview of the colonial process. Building on this, Part Six situates the Indigenous struggle in the context of the twenty-first century, with discussions of title, rights, identity, and the federal government’s residential school apology of 2008. The book also features useful appendices on the Royal Proclamation, the Heritage Conservation Act, the residential school apology, a glossary of terms, and an indexed listing of First Nations within British Columbia.

Overall, Muckle must be applauded for covering the main trajectory of First Nations concerns with such clarity and brevity. It must also be noted, however, that The First Nations of British Columbia is strongest in its treatment of material culture and First Nations history and somewhat thin in its ethnographic and anthropological content. The lack of these will require educators to expand on the book’s content by pointing students to more detailed anthropological studies such as the classic works by Wayne Suttles, Wayne Warry, Margaret Seguin Anderson, Julie Cruikshank, and Robin Ridington. Despite this weakness, the book’s clarity in introducing the key concerns and problematics of First Nations concerns will make it a useful resource for educators and for those seeking a basic understanding of current issues facing First Nations in contemporary British Columbia.

The First Nations of British Columbia: An Anthropological Overview
Robert J. Muckle
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014 (Third edition; first edition 1998). 194 pp. $27.95 paper