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HUMANITIES 313 Julie Cruikshank. The Social Life ofStories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory University of British Columbia Press. xxviii, 212. $75.00 Reading the preface to The Social Life of Stories feels like approaching a massive magnet which compels one to attend to the strong forces the text explores. For it is the power of oral narratives - their ability to 'make meaningful connections and provide order and continuity in a rapidly changing world,' to 'subvert official orthodoxies and to challenge conventional ways of thinking' - that intrigues the writer and captures the reader here. Although this is an academic treatise, complete with bibliographyand index, Julie Cruikshank spent many years outside the academy, and it shows. Her prose, lucid and largely jargon-free, transcends and even rebukes conventional academic discourse. That is to say, The Social Life of Stories is an example of that increasingly rare breed, an academic study that is accessible to the inquiring lay reader. The seven chapters of this book cover a range of perspectives on oral narrative, each of them focused on Yukon experience. In particular, the close personal and professional connections over many years between the writer and three First Nation female elders, Annie Ned, Angela Sidney, and Kitty Smith, inform and give authority to the study. Chapter I, '''My Roots Grow in Jackpine Roots": Culture, History and Narrative Practice in the Yukon,' offers a summary of categories of narrative forms and uses examples from disruptive historical events to establish that 'language, land, and family are central to contemporary public discussions of culture and expressions of belonging in Yukon conununities.' As Cruikshank puts it in her aphoristic way, 'stories crosscut maps.' Chapter 2, ' "Pete's Song": Establishing Meanings through Story and Song/ illustrates the possibilities of story as a strategy of communication, taking one story and considering the implications ofits telling to varied audiences at different times. Chapter 3, 'Yukon Arcadia: Oral Tradition, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Fragmentation of Meaning,' persuasively warns against the selective employment and oversimplification ofcomplex narratives in governmental and technocratic analyses of environmental management. The warning flags go up for Cruikshank when, for example, traditional ecological knowledge, or TEK, is extracted selectively from oral narratives. Chapter 4, 'ConfrontingCultural Erasure: Images ofSociety in Klondike Gold Rush Narratives/ mesmerizes with its alternative narratives of key . events associated with the Gold Rush. Making use of Harold Innis's belief that 'narrative challenges hegemonic institutions,' Cruikshank argues that indigenous narratives of the Gold Rush, including the discovery of gold by Skoakum Jim (Keish in oral narratives) and the trial of the Nantuck brothers far murdering a prospector in 1898, show us how Native ways of contextualizing and understanding people and their actions posed a threat to 314 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 the Canadian government's territorial ambitions in the Yukon. This chapter especially should be required reading for any government or corporate employees engaged in negotiations with representatives of First Nations. Chapter 5, 'Imperfect Translations: Rethinking Objects of Ethnographic Collection/ cross-references different kinds of stories, with those told by objects in their arrangement and display set against stories on which objects such as carvings are based. The arguments in this chapter are less integrated than elsewhere in the study, though superb illustrations anchor the text. Chapter 6, 'Claiming Legitimacy: Prophecy Narratives from Northern Aboriginal Women/ foregrounds women as repositories of prophecy narratives, though the prophets referred to are men. Here, as elsewhere in the book, Cruikshank argues for the authority of oral narrative in offering 'parallel dimensions of reality.' Specifically, she argues with convincing examples that 'rather than prophecy narratives beingseen [bynon-Natives] as evidence of failure to cope or of social breakdown, they offer a competing form of historical consciousness that deserves to be taken seriously.' The title of the book's final chapter, 'Negotiating with Narrative: Establishing Cultural Identity at the Yukon International Storytelling Festival,' is self-explanatory. It analyses social agency, by which participants focus and highlight their stories to influence social or political agendas. As in earlier chapters, Cruikshank compels the reader's attention with a forceful combination of lucid statement, engaging example, and persuasive argument. To sum up: The Social Life of Stories contributes significantly to our tmderstanding...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 313-314
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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