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“Not Extinct: Keeping the Sinixt Way”

Book Review

This book functions as a display of what collectivity, accountability, and resilience mean for Indigenous communities and allies.

Created with a Sinixt mother-and-daughter team at the forefront of the Blood of Life Collective, Marilyn James and Taress Alexis have followed in the footsteps of the late Elders Eva Orr and Alvina Lum to work as matrilineal representatives attempting to restore knowledge of their people’s presence in their ancestral territory, to repatriate and rebury exhumed ancestral remains, and to act as environmental stewards of the land. Combining classic Interior Salish oratory and a playful multimedia approach, the book offers stories to teach others about Sinixt laws, culture, language, history, and responsibility to the land.

Stories are the heart of the book, with each chapter beginning with a creation or protocol story. As the significance of stories relies on the audience’s understanding of specific cultural contexts, James and Alexis provide insights into perspectives and impacts of these stories on the lives of historical and contemporary Sinixt people, supporting their listeners by explicating history and social norms. Each chapter is closed by a settler member of the Collective reflecting on what these stories mean to their lives. These differing perspectives, accompanied by impactful and diverse illustrations (completed by 17 regional artists), provide the reader many opportunities and ways to engage with the subject matter.

I don’t tell any stories other than Sinixt stories and I have always felt a responsibility to tell certain stories as a Sinixt person.”

~Marilyn James

There is also an online audio version that offers full stories, which is available for download for anyone who purchases the book (I borrowed mine from the library so didn’t have access to it at the time of writing this review). Given the oral nature of Indigenous storytelling (and the fact that the stories represented in the book are brief summaries), this is an important aspect of not only the book but an honouring of tradition and power in story.

Ideas discussed throughout the chapters include the Columbia River Treaty and its impact on the region and Sinixt power, responsibilities of people who live in relationship with the land, archaeology in the region, the role of women and family structures in society, and basic daily conduct. A trend throughout many chapters is the call for all people to recognize that it is not only up to or for Indigenous people to have relationships with the land. Settlers, visitors, and newcomers alike are recognized as responsible for good conduct and accountability to the land and community. This is beautifully modelled in the collaborative nature of the book itself.

Also included in the book are a glossary of Sinixt words (Salish Interior) and phonetics for pronunciation, a glossary of English terms common to Indigenous communities and the government, biographies of all contributors, methods of collaboration on the book, and a powerful introduction by Marilyn James to set the tone of the book.

All in all, this is an accessible read for anyone seeking to learn more about Sinixt culture, the history of the region, and colonialism. In fact, one of the many reasons for creating this book was to provide community-made resources for teachers in the K-12 system who were interested in incorporating Sinixt culture and history in their cirriculum. There is also much to offer for seasoned veterans of the field of study, as the nuanced perspectives brought forward continue to validate the power of Indigenous communities and cultures. As a reader, I walked away awestruck by the resiliency of a Nation that the government, industry, and development has tried to drive to extinction for more than a century.

Though you could read this book quite quickly – like I said, its very accessible – I would highly suggest taking the opportunity to consider how these stories and perspectives impact your own life and conduct, as well as what you could do to use this to support Sinixt sovereignty and existence. Over time, this would be an excellent book for re-reading, as what we take away from stories will change over time with you.

| Chantelle Spicer, Editor |