________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Salish Myths of Legends: One People's Stories (Native Literatures of the Amerticas Series).

M. Terry Thompson & Steven M. Egesdal, eds.
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press (Distributed in Canada by Codasat Canada Ltd.), 2008.
445 pp., pbk., $31.95.
ISBN 978-0-8032-1089-9.

Subject Headings:
Salishan mythology.
Salishan Indians-Folklore.
Tales-Northwest, Pacific.
Legends-Northwest, Pacific.

Review by Gail de Vos.

*** /4


Ownership rights covered the tangible and intangible; even some myths could be owned and told only by their owners. The Native perspective on property rights has led, in some groups, to the politicization of the publication of myths and stories by persons other than the perceived owner. Because this knowledge has, in many cases, been lost, along with so much of the other culture, some groups feel that all myths must belong to the tribe and they refuse to give permission for their publication in any form, by any person, including their own tribal members. (xx)

Another salient feature of Salishan narrative is "pattern number." Pattern number is that culturally "right" number into which persons or things are grouped or occurrences of events "naturally" fall….things or events are patterned into sets or cycles of four. (xxvii)

Much of the context of the oral presentation is lost to contemporary readers; we are relegated to reading fragmentary tales. We cannot hear the orator's use of different voices, or other contextual cues; we cannot see the responses of the audience. (5)

The first story, "The Swimmer," told by the unforgettable Sam Mitchell, shows the importance of tobacco in the traditional Lillooet culture. Of course, this was original tobacco, possibly enriched with kinnikinnick, and not the non-traditional, store-bought variety. Anyone who has ever seen the churning hell that the Fraser River turns into each spring cannot help but marvel at the main character's desire for tobacco that compels him to swim the Fraser at its most dangerous time. (244)

This large anthology contains a selection of 48 traditional and historical oral accounts and stories collected from the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest and Plateau regions of the west coast of Canada and the United States and represents speakers from 23 of the 24 Salishan languages. The accounts have been translated by leading scholars working in close collaboration with Salish storytellers and have been placed in context with engaging and informative introductory commentary as exemplified in the four brief excerpts above. The editors firmly believe that, "Like most stories, this narrative has its own story." (213) And each teller, his or her own background story, also provided by the authors.

     Casual readers as well as scholars will uncover a treasury of tales, cultural markers and historical references in this compilation. The material is organized into twelve sections (epic stories, Basket Ogress stories, stories reflecting "Why things are the way they are," trickster stories, historical events, stories regaling "when the animals were people," the whiteman as other, oratory, humor, songs, modern poems, and journeys to other worlds) based on the similarities of the narratives and do not reflect any contemporary Salish literature to produce a collection which the editors state "fairly reflects what is currently available in terms of Salishan traditional literature." (xxxviii) They also put forth a wish that this collection will stimulate reader demand for other endeavours such as this one. This reader, for one, hopes that this will indeed be the case. This is a collection that is not read quickly. Time is needed to place the reader in the context of the story and the teller and to savor the images, sometimes quite foreign and others very familiar, before moving on to another tale or section.

     The book contains several detailed maps as well as tables on the Salish Language family and a pronunciation guide along with an extensive compilation of references and suggested titles for further reading.

     Recommended for large collections of First Nations material and folklore.


Gail de Vos is a storyteller and author of six books on storytelling and folklore. She teaches storytelling in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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