Aboriginal Oral Traditions: Theory, Practice, Ethics


176 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 978-1-55266-267-0
DDC 398.2089'97




Edited by Renée Hulan and Renate Eigenbrod
Reviewed by Frits Pannekoek

Frits Pannekoek is an associate professor of heritage studies, director
of information resources at the University of Calgary, and the author of
A Snug Little Flock: The Social Origins of the Riel Resistance of


Today there has been an increase in recognition of the importance of storytelling to the cultural survival and understanding of Indigenous Peoples. This volume collects the careful reflections of 12 authors. The essays are well-chosen and cover topics from the assault on Aboriginal oral tradition, to the work of Euro-Canadian anthropologists and their misinterpretations, to the impact of recording devices on oral tradition, to decolonization Indigenous theatre. For the most part, the volume tends to focus more on Eastern Canadian than Western, Northern, or Plains issues, but the observations are applicable to storytelling among Indigenous People globally.

Stephen J. Augustine’s analysis of Silas T. Rand’s work among the Mi’kmaq should be a warning to all those who take the work of 19th and early 20th century “experts” at face value. He shows how easy it is for the unknowing to misinterpret a story and how that misinterpretation will impact several following generations. Drew Mildon illustrates the importance of oral evidence in his analysis of Supreme Court decisions. It was the wisdom of several justices that gave oral traditions respectability in Canada’s legal establishment. I also found Tasha Hubbard’s essay “Vices Heard in Silence, History Held in the Memory” to cause much reflection. She argues that the very act of literary analysis of Indigenous stories using Euro-Canadian constructs can easily be an overt act of colonial collusion by Indigenous literary experts. She argues that perhaps the Indigenous literary establishment has to move “to places where songs, stories and ways of knowing are the norm instead of genres, structures and containers.”

All in all this is an important book that should find its way into the personal libraries of those interested in Indigenous narratives. But most important of all, I hope its finds it way into the curriculum of our universities.


“Aboriginal Oral Traditions: Theory, Practice, Ethics,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/28380.