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Books on This Desk: Brief Reviews
The quartet of books on this desk for this issue arrived here as part of my ongoing research into the life of Archie Phinney, the Nez Perce anthropologist.
He was a unique person who traveled far from his original home in Culdesac, Idaho, on the Nez Perce Reservation, to the Altai Mountains in central Asia and back again. Archie Phinney was a one-of-a-kind person whose adventures across the United States and the Soviet Union of the 1930s and 1940s placed him in some very risky environments. In some ways he was like the mythological Coyote in his own Nez Perce Texts (New York: Columbia University Press, 1934). He was frequently at great risk but came out intact, just like Coyote emerging from the monster.
First Fish, First People: Salmon Tales of the North Pacific Rim. edited by Judith Roche and Meg McHutchinson. One Real Press; distributed by University of Washington Press, 1998
The first selection of the quartet is as unique in its way as Archie Phinney was as a man.
This is a collection of tales about the First Fish from indigenous writers and storytellers of Sakhalin Island, the Amur
River Valley in Siberia, Hokkaido in northern Japan, and the Northwest Coast of North America.
The contributors are of many languages and communities, but all are of peoples who shared a centuries-long common dependency on the seasonal salmon runs from the sea up the rivers to spawn. All these [End Page 157] communities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries lost their former control over their environments to the colonial expansion of larger, more powerful nations: the Ainu of Hokkaido and Sakhalin to Japan; the Ulchi of the Amur River Valley to Russia; the Nivkh of Sakhalin to Russia; the native people of British Columbia, first to Britain, then to Canada; the native people of Alaska and Washington State to the United States. All of these larger, more powerful nations took control of the salmon fishing away from the native people for the purpose of industrializing the fisheries. Since ocean fish are not the products of industrial plants, the fish runs have deteriorated and shrunk to fewer and fewer fish each year. Archie Phinney's Nez Perce Texts could have served as a source of more salmon tales, for instance, how Coyote freed the salmon.
First Fish, First People is the first effort I have encountered to bring together examples of the cultural unity of all the people of the North Pacific Rim. I look forward to seeing many more such books on this desk.
In the Soviet House of Culture: A Century of Perestroikas by Bruce Grant. Princeton University Press, 1995
The second book is related to the first book, but focuses on the impact of Czarist and Soviet colonial expansion on the Nivkh people of Sakhalin Island. The Nivkh were introduced in First Fish through the Nivkh author Vladimir Sangi's Nivkh stories.
Bruce Grant charts the cultural history of the Nivkh people of Sakhalin Island, located off the coast of Siberia just north of Hokkaido, on the North Pacific edge of the Russian Far East.
Like all the other North Pacific Rim indigenous people, the Nivkh were seasonal salmon fishers living in summer villages. They spent their winters in winter houses subsisting by and large from stored salmon. In the nineteenth century, Russian and Japanese colonial administration intruded upon them. Both the Nivkh and the Ainu communities of Sakhalin found themselves coming more and more under the domination of the colonial administrators of the two nations. The process that Bruce Grant describes is one which all of the North Pacific Rim peoples have undergone.
Russians and Ukrainians were brought in to take up the best land and the best jobs. The Nivkh were relegated to the marginal, less-skilled, lower-paid work. The Nivkh were forcibly Russified through banning their religious practices, forced attendance in government [End Page...