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Harry Assu with Joy Inglis

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1989. 163pp, paper, ISBN 0-7748-0341-X (paper), $19.95, ISBN 0-7748-0333-9 (cloth), $29.95. CIP

Grades 8 to 12/Ages 13 to 17
Reviewed by Joan Skogan.

Volume 18 Number 6
1990 November

Kwagiulth Chief Harry Assu is a gentle, honourable man whose knowl­edge of his people reaches across his own experience to his childhood mem­ories of elders' stories from the time be­fore European contact on the B.C. coast.

Assu of Cape Mudge is enhanced by Hilary Stewart’s sketches of artifacts, along with photographs and maps. The illustrations provide a physical context for a life that included seasonal journeys on the waters of Johnstone Strait and Discovery Passage; the elaborate gift-giving and ceremony of the potlatch and the enforcement of their "illegality" in the 1920s; a lifetime of salmon and herring fishing along the coast; and profound change in the village at Cape Mudge on Quadra Island.

When Harry Assu was a boy in the early years of the century, his grandfather

had power from the beings that were in the waters here in his time, especially the whales. If the canoes were having a hard time making their way up Discovery Passage and into Johnstone Strait against the northwest wind and whales were sighted, my grandfather would holler out to them to bring a south easier. The whales would answer by splashing their tails. The wind would then die down and soon the southeast wind would begin to blow, sending the canoes forward. What I know of the power of eagles, raven, whales and other Beings, 1 learned mostly from my mother's father, Jim Naknakim.... He told me the stories of his lifetime on these waters. I learned many things from him that once happened to our people, but not any more.

Harry Assu records other losses. Making a living from salmon fishing has become a more complicated and tenuous business than it was when the Assu seiner, the B.C.P. 45, appeared on the five dollar bill in 1958.

Anthropologist Joy Inglis, who is a long-time friend and neighbour of She Cape Mudge people, has carefully recorded Harry Assu's memories. Her chapter notes and appendices add detailed information on Kwakwala language orthography and on any of the mythological and historical events referred to in the text.

Teachers suggesting the book to either non-native students or to those who are unfamiliar with the coast may wish to offer a more general description of traditional Kwagiulth society as an introduction.

Joan Skogan, Vancouver, B.C.
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