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  • Spirits of the Rockies: Reasserting an Indigenous Presence in Banff National Park by Courtney W. Mason
  • Andreas Brugger
Mason, Courtney W. Spirits of the Rockies: Reasserting an Indigenous Presence in Banff National Park. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Pp. 195. Illustrations. $27.95 pb.

“The Banff-Bow Valley in western Alberta is the heart of spiritual and economic life for the Nakoda peoples” (i). Courtney W. Mason, a former postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa and current assistant professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, worked and lived in this “heart” of today’s Banff National Park for many years; consequently, according to Roland Rollinmud and Ian A. L. Getty, who wrote the foreword of his book, “the community gave him rare access to the oral history of Banff National Park and its central role in Nakoda spirituality and cultural activities” (xii). They further confirm that Mason “skillfully combined this personal authenticity with the extensive archival research he conducted in local archives and data gleaned from newspapers” (xii).

In fact, Mason analyzed issues of four local newspapers. One of them, Stoney Country, was the only mass-communication document written by Nakoda (also called “Stoney”) community members in the 1970s. In addition to the analysis of documents from four different museums and archives, Mason placed a serious focus on oral history, which provided him with a remarkable insight into the life of the Nakoda peoples. The book also contains twenty-two black-and-white or color pictures, including two maps. Additional pictures would have been helpful to stimulate the imagination of the reader even more.

Mason addressed his book to “diverse audiences” (9), which complicated the writing process. Furthermore, the well-elaborated theoretical framework, primarily but not exclusively based on the theories of Michel Foucault, might be difficult to understand for interested nonprofessionals. However, this framework is very important, and Mason chose Foucault despite the fact that the latter was often criticized for his Eurocentrism and followed the argumentation of the Mohawk scholar Alfred, who regarded the Foucauldian approach as “particularly useful for analyzing the relationship between the state and Indigenous peoples” (14).

Spirits of the Rockies “explores Nakoda histories of the Banff-Bow Valley by focusing on their experiences of being excluded from the region” (5). This exclusion originated in the Treaty 7 Agreements of 1877, which were the starting point for the “relocation . . . to relatively small tracts of land that were defined as reserves” (31). Furthermore, the government “began to directly repress specific cultural practices of Indigenous peoples” (61). However, the development of tourism in general and the Banff Indian Days sporting and tourism festivals (1894–1960s) in particular “provided atypical socio-economic, political, and cultural opportunities for Nakoda individuals and communities” (138). [End Page 241]

Mason concludes that the “histories of colonial violence cannot be erased from our collective memory” (149) and nourishes the hope that “this book will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the histories of colonial oppression in Canadian society” (149). After reading this profound book, one can confirm that it definitely meets the author’s requirements.

Andreas Brugger
Montafon Archive, Austria


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