Book Review:
Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia

  • Posted 11/14/2014
  • Essay 10789

Edited by Robert T. Boyd, Kenneth M. Ames, and Tony A. Johnson
Hardcover, 448 pages
Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index
University of Washington Press, 2013
ISBN 978-0-295-99279-2

This is a densely packed volume, and a corrective to many long-held assumptions about how people who lived (and still live) on the lower Columbia River ate, traded, organized their families, and traveled. 

Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia is a masterful piece of scholarship. Edited by Portland State University professors Robert T. Boyd and Kenneth M. Ames and by Chinook Indian Nation Cultural Committee chair Tony A. Johnson, this book examines all aspects of Chinookan history with fresh perspective. In their acknowledgments, the editors tell readers that this volume's creation has been truly collaborative, with no editor taking a senior role, and this feels evident in the thoughtfully balanced text. 

Each chapter is written by a different expert contributor. Among the many excellent topics, the chapters on Ethnobiology, "Non-fishing Subsistence and Production," by D. Ann Trieu Gahr, and "Chinookan Oral Literature," by Dell Hymls and William A. Seaburg, are especially powerful.

Another chapter challenges the iconic status of salmon as the dietary staple of Northwest Coast Native people. Written by Virginia L. Butler and Michael A. Martin, it brings together recent scholarship that knocks the mighty salmon from its place in the Native food hierarchy. Knowing how vastly varied the varieties aboriginal fishing really yielded offers a rich window into the three-dimensional culinary lives of Northwest Coast natives. 

The final section of the book deals with the impact and aftermath of non-Native contact, including an insightful chapter by Andrew Fisher and Melinda Marie Jette on Chinook tribal affairs and the struggle for federal recognition. Perhaps most intriguing is William L. Lang's examination of historical narratives about Chinookan peoples -- from George Vancouver's notes to recent scholarship. 

This book is a new essential, and will be welcomed by anyone interested in a deeper, fresher, more nuanced exploration of our region's native history. Highly recommended. 

By Paula Becker, November 14, 2014

Submitted: 11/14/2014

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