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  • The Power of Place, the Problem of Time: Aboriginal Identity and Historical Consciousness in the Cauldron of Colonialism by Keith Thor Carlson
  • Phil Bellfy
Keith Thor Carlson. The Power of Place, the Problem of Time: Aboriginal Identity and Historical Consciousness in the Cauldron of Colonialism. University of Toronto Press, 2010. 375 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Illustrations. $32.95 sc.

I suspect that you are reading this review for the same reasons I had for agreeing to review this book. Like you, I was intrigued by the title; but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it was a mistake to judge this book’s value by its cover.

First, the book does indeed address the “the power of place and the problem of time,” but not in the way the title suggests. The title doesn’t actually set a time frame for its investigation beyond the hint that the era under exploration includes the “cauldron of colonialism.”

So, the title of this book is problematic for a number of reasons. First, those reading the title are not given a hint as to where this “cauldron” might be taking “place.” Second, some may argue that the era of “colonialism” could very well be considered as an ongoing process, and, therefore, it might be assumed that the book will cover the “place,” from First Contact, to today’s twenty-first century Aboriginal society, with its myriad of “problems.”

That is, if there is a “problem of time” that this book is exploring, in a particular place, how does the Aboriginal Identity of that place change over time, or is the “problem” one of stasis; or is that “cauldron” still cooking Aboriginal people?

Next, just where is the “place” that holds such “power” for Aboriginal people? Equally, what are the elements of that unnamed place that create those problems of identity and consciousness? If you’ve read this far in this review, I must assume that you—as did I—admit that the title is intriguing enough to pique and keep your interest.

At close to 300 pages of text, I was expecting a broad exploration of how the “power” of Aboriginal “places” shaped Aboriginal identity generally, across the broad expanse of “colonialism,” but where?

Upon reading the book, I did find the answers to many of the questions I posed above. The “place” of the book is the Lower Fraser River Watershed Region of British Columbia, Canada (3). The “time” of the title refers to the “colonial” period “beginning in the late eighteenth century (just prior to the first smallpox epidemic) and running through to 1906 (the beginning of the age of contemporary west coast Aboriginal politics)” (26). The Aboriginal People of this book are known today as [End Page 157] the Stolo (although the author spells it Stó:lõ throughout).

A good summary of the book’s range and depth was provided by the author in his conclusion to Chapter Four:

[T]hese smallpox and economically induced migrations were not only the first in Stó:lõ history, they were not the last. Much of the nineteenth century was also characterized by a series of identity-shaping migrations that, through the power of place and the problem of time, did as much to undermine certain tribally based affiliations as they did in other instances to enhance tribal cohesiveness while simultaneously promoting competing notions of supra-tribal identity


Now, if this is the “problem” and the “place” that you wish to explore, this book is a truly excellent introduction to that exploration of how a place can shape a People’s Historic Identity. The author takes the reader through the Lower Fraser River region in a quest for that “cauldron of colonialism,” showing how the geography and the environment shaped the Stó:lõ identity through the various migrations and Spiritual Forces one encounters in these places; how the Emerging Colonial Order restricted access to those identity-forming places; and, finally, how all of this helped to form the Modern Stó:lõ Collective Identity into the Twentieth Century (capitalized phrases are taken from the Index).

But, while the author does a more than admirable job presenting the...


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pp. 157-158
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