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I picked up Lillooet Stories, a slim volume, and read the table of contents in order to decide whether or not to add it to the basket of books to bring up to my classroom, but seeing as there was a story in there called “Hunter Jack and the Chilcotins” I decided to read the story before putting the book down because I am Chilcotin and I was enthralled to see reference to my heritage in the book.
Seeing as that story was so good, I decided to read another one, and another one, and before I knew it I had read the entire book cover to cover. Of course, I added the book to my basket and have used it several times in my classrooms. Students have enjoyed the stories, which are rich in content yet told using accessible language.
Many of the stories from Lillooet Stories are included in Part XIII of The Lil’wat World of Charlie Mack, although many are peppered throughout the earlier sections of the book intertwined with dialogue between Charlie Mack, Baptiste Ritchie, and the authors. By putting the stories into context through geography, social context, and historical context the narratives become much richer.
The book is laid out in a somewhat non-linear fashion which meanders through time and space. Readers are introduced to the personality of Charlie Mack, an anthropological background of the Lil’wat Nation, and a brief biography of Charlie Mack before delving into the stories. The chapters and stories fluctuate between the time of the great flood, transformers, early contact, and modern days.
By shifting time periods frequently readers are able to understand Lil’wat history and contemporary Lil’wat life in the context of Lil’wat worldview. The structure of the book allows the reader to develop both an affection and appreciation for the sophistication of the Lil’wat people before touching on the impact of colonialism on their ecosystem, lifestyle, and population.
In order to read this book you have to settle into it. The stories are sometimes interrupted by clarifying questions by other storytellers or the authors. In other places the stories are interrupted by clarifying commentary or background information. In one place a long story are is over the course of several evenings, and so there are breaks in the story because there were actual breaks in its telling. Footnotes provide additional information on orthography, ethnographic cross references, and translation of St’at’imc words.
This structure of presenting stories means that a reader without a background in anthropology or First Nations Studies could skim through the book and read only Charlie Mack’s words, just as a reader with even a limited familiarity with anthropology could read through the author’s narrative along with Charlie Mack’s words, while a specialist could read all of the text and the footnotes, and all would enjoy the book at their level. Charlie Mack’s intent in sharing his stories was to show others the sophistication of the Lil’wat people, and I believe that readers of any level could access that sophistication regardless of how they approached the book.
Another dimension of the book is the strong connection between stories and place. People who have been to St’at’imc territory will appreciate the land attached to the stories, however, people who have never been to the area will gain a glimpse of its beauty through frequent description and photos included throughout the book.
First Nations people outside of the Lil’wat Nation will appreciate the book for its stories, but they will also appreciate the references to other nations in the book. Sechelt, Chilcotin, Carrier, Squamish, Nuxalk, and Sto:lo First Nations are mentioned in Charlie’s stories. Charlie often tells stories cooperatively with Baptiste Ritchie, who is Upper St’at’imc from Xaxli’p. Slim Jackson, Sam Mitchell, and Sam Jim are other storyteller’s whose words are included in the collection.
I’m glad that the authors kept Charlie Mack’s original words intact within the first chapter of this book because I felt like I was in the company of an old friend again.