Recording Their Story: James Teit and the Tahltan.


224 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55365-232-8
DDC 971.1'85004972





Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan A. Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and
ethnohistorian in British Columbia.


The Tahltan are an Athapaskan-speaking people who reside in the upper Stikine River of northwestern British Columbia. This book is about the final ethnographic work of James Teit, who was the first to study the Tahltan. Although other scholars have written about the importance of Teit’s contribution to ethnography, particularly among the Interior Salish, the Tahltan have received little scholarly attention.


Judy Thompson has scoured various archival and museum collections for notes, photographs, and artifacts collected by Teit. The result is a scholarly work of high academic importance. Thompson provides a detailed biography of Teit, and includes a description of Teit’s “fateful” meeting with anthropologist Franz Boas in 1894 which would forever change the direction of Teit’s life and lead to a collaboration and friendship which would last Teit’s lifetime. Thompson recounts the long struggles for Teit, despite ill health, to satisfy the competing work demands made on him from Boas and Boas’s student, Edward Sapir, who were both pioneers of early Canadian ethnography.


Teit not only recorded songs and pictures, he also interviewed the Tahltan, cross-checked information from more than one source, and collected artifacts including such items as caribou and squirrel skin bags and various utensils. One such artifact, which is beautifully illustrated, is a toboggan made of caribou leg skins. It was used by Tahltan women to haul various items by hand over snow. Teit astutely recognized that many of the ceremonial features of the Tahltan had been obtained from neighbouring Tlingit culture, and apparently for this reason Teit excluded ceremonial items from his collection. All the artifacts have been beautifully photographed in colour. In addition, some of the artifacts in the book are shown with accompanying illustrations which show the pattern of how the artifact was made.


Thompson has seamlessly blended ethnography, history, and museum artifacts into a scholarly and comprehensive reference guide to the Tahltan and to Teit. This book is a long overdue tribute to Teit’s last ethnographic work and his important contribution to Canadian ethnography. It will be of interest to the Tahltan and to students of Canadian ethnography and the history of ethnography.


Thompson, Judy., “Recording Their Story: James Teit and the Tahltan.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,