Daughters of Copper Woman
Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.
Originally published in 1981, Daughters of Copper Woman became a
groundbreaking bestseller and women’s studies staple. This edition
includes a new preface as well as parts cut from the original. The book
is based on Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) myths and legends that Cameron
learned from Nootka elders.
The 19 independent but thematically linked stories have female-based
empowerment perspectives. In the first story, Copper Woman is
responsible for the creation of the first humans. The first male is
“snot boy,” created from the mucus of Copper Woman. Other stories
retell the history of European conquest from a woman’s perspective,
focusing on the impact of the Spanish (called “Keestadores” for
Conquistadors). The collection ends with a modern story that underscores
the theme of a collective universal womanhood.
The stories reveal important cultural characteristics of oral history,
including memorization of family ties by birth and marriage, the use of
chants for sea navigation (during the supposed Nootka visits to Japan
and China), and the cultural significance of songs and dance steps. They
also focus on the deleterious effects of epidemics and of war with the
Keestadores, which radically altered the kinship system to the detriment
of the earlier female-dominated kinship system. More poignantly put:
“the sickness killed off the songs.”
Whether read for insight into Nootka society, for new interpretations
of Nootka culture, or for pure enjoyment, Daughters of Copper Woman is
extremely well written and informative.