At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: TF McIlwraith's Field Letters, 1922–4


205 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0979-5
DDC 971.1'1004979





Edited by John Barker and Douglas Cole
Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

Marilyn Mardiros is an associate professor of health sciences at the
University of Ottawa.


T.F. McIlwraith is a pioneering Canadian anthropologist who undertook
fieldwork with the Bella Coola Indians (now called the Nuxalk) from 1922
to 1924. At Home with the Bella Coola Indians is a collection of
McIlwraith’s letters from the field. His purpose was to document his
observations of the Nuxalk religion and social organization.

The substantial introduction provides the reader with an understanding
of the study of anthropology during this time, the contemporary
situation of the people of Bella Coola (focusing predominately on the
Nuxalk but also including the Norwegian and other settlers), and
McIlwraith’s life as a young scholar. The first section of the book
includes the letters he wrote to family and professional colleagues
between March and July 1922 and then from September 1923 to March 1924
when he returned to complete his research. The second section includes
three manuscripts that he wrote after completing his fieldwork, two of
which have never been published before.

Prior to the publication of these letters, thousands of pages of
McIlwraith’s field notes and letters had never been published. The
letters shed light on the attitudes toward the people being studied.
Personal accounts reveal McIlwraith’s frustrations and joys, and what
he endured physically, emotionally, and socially. There is reflection
here on the meaning of events that he witnessed and participated in.
McIlwraith came to Bella Coola to salvage what information he could on
the Nuxalk culture, as it existed prior to extensive European influence.

This is a scholarly work that is accessible enough to appeal to the
general reader interested in the First Nations, Canadian history, the
study of culture, and biography.


McIlwraith, T.F., “At Home with the Bella Coola Indians: TF McIlwraith's Field Letters, 1922–4,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,