- Where Happiness Dwells: A History of the Dane-zaa First Nations by Robin Ridington, Jillian Ridington
This history of the Dane-zaa First Nations is a testament to what can be accomplished through long-term ethnographic fieldwork. When the chief and council of the Doig River First Nation asked the Ridingtons to write the history of their people based on oral history, they “knew that our work would be to put together and explain all the wise stories the Dane-zaa had told us over the past half century” (1). In an excellent example of collaboration, the Ridingtons did just that. With each story that is shared, the context of when and where the story was recorded, who told it, to whom it was told, the language in which the story was told, and who translated it are all provided. It is clear from the stories recorded that the history of the Dane-zaa people is a “trail of time, a trail of braided stories” (2) and to understand Dane-zaa history, one must understand Dane-zaa storytelling (2–3). For Dane-zaa people “history is a trail that begins in a time before measured time. It is a trail defined by the Dreamers, people who have shown the way when the trail ahead seemed to be unclear” (5). For the authors, this text is more than a collaborative ethnography: “It is a celebration and fulfillment of fifty years of friendship, and it expresses our appreciation of the Dane-zaa” (8). [End Page 226]
Fort St. John, within the Dane-zaa traditional territory, is located along the Peace River within the northern Rocky Mountains along the west side of what is now the British Columbia–Alberta border. This history focuses on the people who were known as the Fort St. John Beaver Band until they divided into the Doig River and Blueberry River First Nations in 1977. European cultural impact on the Dane-zaa occurred relatively late; for example, no Dane-zaa children attended school until 1950. Robin Ridington first visited the Dane-zaa in 1959 and began a life’s work. The Ridingtons have created the Ridington/Dane-zaa Archive which houses all their photographs, tape recordings, videos, and radio recordings and extensive genealogies they have created or collected over the past half century with Dane-zaa people. This collection can be accessed online.
In addition to a preface with linguistic note and pronunciation guide, an introduction, and several appendices, this history of the Dane-zaa First Nations is sixteen chapters long. Chapter 1 begins at the beginning with the Dane-zaa creation story. The Ridingtons note that Robin had asked to hear the creation story from beginning to end in one sitting and that only an outsider would have requested this. We therefore understand that we are not learning Dane-zaa history the way Dane-zaa children learn it. This history is written, and told in English; some stories are told from beginning to end, and the Ridingtons provide context and explanation of meaning that Dane-zaa language speakers would not need in order to understand the story. The act of reading oral history is a very different experience than learning Dane-zaa history orally. When elders tell stories, they provide a re-creation of the story, not a recitation—elders, and in this case Dreamers, tell a “particular version of a story to fit the audience and the occasion” (22). Yet Charlie Yahey, who may have been the last of the Dane-zaa Dreamers, wanted his stories to be recorded and written, so that “‘the world will listen to my voice’” (12).
Chapter 2 tells us of the Dane-zaa culture hero Tsááyaa, who was “the first hunter, the first person to go on a vision quest, and a model for the first Dreamer” (38), and chapter 3 discusses the importance of Shin kaa (what anthropologists call a vision quest...