At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging

UBC, 2019

Canada’s History, Nelle Oosterom, March 26, 2021

She [Wendy Wickwire] does a thorough job of unearthing Teit’s legacy. Her book is filled with detail, anecdotes, and personal reflection. It’s an inspiring must-read for anyone interested in reconciliation today.
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Prairie History, No. 4, Winter 2021

At The Bridge has won or been short-listed for a dozen awards, from literary, historical and social justice associations. These are well deserved, and I too would highly recommend it as a really good read.
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Mark Zion, Kate Plyley, Hester Lessard and Rebecca Johnson, published in Volume 58, Issue 1 of the Alberta Law Review

In the spirit of a phrase we introduced at the outset, “it matters what stories tell stories,” Wickwire draws her audience into a style of anthropology that is situated, participatory, and strives to be contextually self-aware at every turn.
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Brian Smith, June 17, 2020: “James A Teit: Tackling racism in the late 1800’s”

In December 1883, Lerwick Man James Teit emigrated to Canada where he lived and worked with indigenous communities, listening and learning about their rich culture. His wonderful investigations into the lore of indigenous societies, and his political struggles alongside oppressed people, were models of anti-racist practice.
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Rebecca Johnson (Uvic Law), May 28, 2020: “At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging”

Looking for a good read this summer, during COVID times?  One of my favourite books of the year is Wendy Wickwire’s book,  At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging (UBC Press, 2019). Now, you may be thinking “I don’t know who James Teit is,” or “Anthropology isn’t really my thing.” I would encourage you to push past those responses, and say that if you give this book a try, you will come away being so happy to have built a relationship with James Teit, and I suspect you may also come away feeling connected in a more intimate way to the places you live (where ever those places are) and feeling more  hopeful about the ways we all may choose, in these difficult times, to become anthropologists of belonging.
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The History of Anthropology Review, May 4, 2020: Frederico Delgado Rosa, “A Historiography of Belonging: Wendy Wickwire and the Anthropological Legacy of James Teit”

James Teit’s anthropology connected the present, the past, and the future because it was an ‘anthropology of belonging,’ as Wickwire highlights in the title of the book itself to express his four-decade immersion in the real life of living communities. By the same token, his ethnographic experience cannot be equated with the longer or shorter sojourns of professional observers, for the simple reason that he was at home—at home with his Indian relatives and friends. This point is abundantly illustrated, but the most poignant example is this one: “With Antko’s death in 1899, he experienced the Nlaka’pamux death rituals and protocols as an insider” (171). No wonder Wickwire concludes that “the professional designation of the ‘participant-observer’ does not even scratch the surface of Teit’s anthropology” (277).
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The Hill Times, January 20, 2020: Kate Malloy, “There has never been an ethnographer-activist the likes of James Teit”

While doing research in the 1970s on ethnographic work on Indigenous singers and songs in British Columbia’s south central interior, University of Victoria history professor Wendy Wickwire made an exciting discovery: the long-forgotten historical figure James Teit, once a prolific ethnographer, anthropologist, and an Indigenous rights political activist in the early 1900s who had been nearly erased from the history books.

Prof. Wickwire discovered that Teit spent 40 years trying to help British Columbia’s Indigenous peoples “challenge the settler-colonial assault on their lands and lives.” He learned a few Indigenous languages, he served as a special agent for the Allied Indian Tribes of British Columbia and helped lead a lobby campaign against the racist Bill of Enfranchisement (Bill 14) in 1920. He testified before the Senate Banking and Commerce Committee on June 16, 1920, in Ottawa. The Shetland-born Teit was blacklisted and considered a “white agitator,” but he spent most of his life as an advocate for Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.
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The New Shetlander, Yule, 2019: Brian Smith, Book Review

Wendy Wickwire began to investigate Teit’s career in 1989, and worked for thirteen years with his son Sigurd (he died in 2002). She has now brought their joint work to fruition. The resulting work isn’t an autobiography—large tracts of Teit’s personal life hardly feature in it, and may well be irrecoverable. She has, however, explained the connection between his ethnographic and his political work, in a way that no scholar has done to date. It is a complex and illuminating reconstruction.
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Salmon Arm Observer, September 11, 2019: Jim Cooperman, “Remarkable author of The Shuswap focus of new biography”

It is an exceptional book about a remarkable man who never received the recognition he deserved for his major input to what was then the new science of anthropology.

Given that much of what is known today about the history of the Secwepemc stems from The Shuswap, Teit’s seminal monograph, At the Bridge should be of interest to all those who want to learn more about this early ethnographer and B.C.’s Indigenous people. Thanks to Wickwire’s book, more people will become aware of Teit’s many significant achievements, and hopefully his reputation will gain the recognition it deserves.
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The Scotsman, November 27, 2019: Alison Campsie, “The lost story of a Shetlander who became a champion of First Nation Canadians”

He left Shetland more than 100 years ago to start a job in a corner shop in British Columbia but went on to  live and hunt with a Canadian First Nation community, marry into their people, learn their language and became a true champion of their culture, history and rights.
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BC Studies, August 27, 2019: Charles Menzies, “At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging”

James Teit was an amazing community-based engaged anthropologist long before such labels were invented. Wendy Wickwire’s anthropological life story of Teit is a consummate account and indeed, as the top of page advertisement exhorts, it is “A must read.” Wickwire weaves together personal biographical details of Teit, the political economy of his Shetland Island homelands and colonial British Columbia, ethnographic details of the Indigenous peoples Teit worked with and lived among, and a wider political analysis of both anthropology and Canadian political history. This is an accomplishment that shows the decades of work it took to amass the knowledge and understanding of the place and the person that resulted in this book.
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The Tyee, June 25, 2019: Crawford Kilian, “The Little-Known Settler Who Fought for Indian rights”

Cultures are stubborn and almost immortal. Many European and Latin American apartment buildings are built like those of Rome, and bullfights are akin in spirit and purpose to gladiatorial combat.

Similarly, Indigenous cultures in Canada have stubbornly survived despite over a century and a half of calculated oppression by white Canadians and their governments. And Canadian governmental culture since Confederation has been equally stubborn in its determination to destroy the peoples it has expropriated.

Wendy Wickwire makes that clear in this epic account of James Teit, who not only preserved much of B.C.’s Indigenous culture in the 19th and early 20th century, but fought Ottawa’s malevolent racism every step of the way.
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The Ormsby Review, July 9, 2019: Daniel Marshall, “The Late, Great, James Teit”

In my travels as an historian over the years through the communities of the southern B.C. Interior, I have heard two names repeatedly in conversations with regard to the history and cultures of Indigenous peoples. The first is the subject of this extraordinary book — James Teit (1864–1922) — a prolific ethnographer and Indigenous rights activist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second is, in fact, the author of At the Bridge: James Teit and the Anthropology of Belonging, new from UBC Press.
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“Wendy Wickwire’s groundbreaking historical investigation places James Teit as a key figure in early North American anthropology, but also as central to historical Indigenous rights activism in British Columbia.” —Julie Cruikshank, author of Do Glaciers Listen? Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters and Social Imagination

“As a Secwepemc, I knew of James Teit and his work, but I did not know his background or why he felt the urge to work with Indigenous people in what is now British Columbia. In At the Bridge, Wendy Wickwire brings Teit to life and gives him the credit he is due by vividly recounting the early history of the Indigenous struggle and of the man who became one of us. I LOVE THIS BOOK.” —Bev Sellars, former chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation and author of They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

“At first blush this is a biography of James Teit, whose life has been overshadowed by others in American anthropology. But it is so much more. It is a political history of the Pacific Northwest, an account of organizing against the iron fist of Canadian statecraft and settler colonialism, and a rigorous account of anthropological relationships in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – consensual, strategic, sometimes clearly parasitic – that made for the fields of cultural theory, museology, and social science. This book is a must-read.” —Audra Simpson, professor of anthropology, Columbia University, and author of Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States

Harry Robinson: Living by Stories, A Journey of Landscape and Memory

Talonbooks, 2005

“Wendy Wickwire’s third compilation of Harry Robinson’s Tales Living by Stories veers away from the “traditional” First Nations’ narratives favoured by Franz Boas and other anthropologists.” —Bookworld

Harry Robinson: Nature Power, In the Spirit of an Okanagan Storyteller

Douglas & McIntyre, 1992, re-issued by Talonbooks 2005

Nature Power is a fine and important example of the potential of recent collaborative work in folklore. The introduction makes a significant contribution to folklore theory and method by describing the working relationship within the community and the basis on which editorial decisions were made. Robinson and Wickwire have left us with a valuable collection of stories in which the Okanagan spiritual world view is presented and explained from within by one of its recognized tradition bearers.” —Richard Dauenhauer, World Literature Today, Volume 68, Winter 1994.

Harry Robinson: Write It On Your Heart, The Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller

Theytus Books/Talonbooks, 1989

“Anthropologists have been collecting Native American texts for more than a century.  Surprisingly, very few of these collections document the act of storytelling.  Texts that are separated from storytelling rob the storyteller of his or her authority. They rob the reader of a glimpse into Native American life as it is experienced. . . . Write it On Your Heart is nothing less than a masterwork in the genre of oral literature. Robinson’s mastery of his craft and of his tradition are flawless. Wickwire’s poetic transcriptions are equally masterful.” —Robin Ridington, Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 105, Fall, 1992.

Stein: the Way of the River


Stein: The Way of The River is a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly partisan volume that presents the case for preserving the disputed valley. It is a collection of spectacular photographs, Indian elders’ descriptions, settlers’ diaries, explorers’ journals, forest ministry studies, anthropologists’ reports, and 19th century newspaper articles…. It’s an exhaustively researched and brilliantly designed presentation of the reasons why so many people have come to regard the notion of logging the Stein Valley as a proposal as preposterous and obscene as the construction of a motorway through the Sistine Chapel.” —Terry Glavin, The Vancouver Sun