Being Cowlitz: How One Tribe Renewed and Sustained Its Identity

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 27-3: The Trials of Teacher Education, Media Reviews

Being Cowlitz: How One Tribe Renewed and Sustained Its Identity By Christine DupresBy Christine Dupres
University of Washington Press (2014)
160 pages

Review by Charles Cambridge

The title of Christine Dupres’ book offers a promise that unfortunately remains unfulfilled by having stories without endings. In the early chapters and spottily thereafter, she keeps the interest of the reader as the theme of the Cowlitz people unfolds. In later chapters, however, she abruptly begins to take her interesting stories into a maze of folklore theories and analytical discussions.

Dupres attempts to verify her stories by quoting folklorists and others for rationale and legitimacy. This removes the author’s stories to an academic thesis issuing mental debates on whether or not the folklore theory or its application is valid. This diminishes the book’s interesting theme of the Cowlitz people and their survival as a tribe. The author discusses several moments of history having importance to the Cowlitz people in their relationships with the State of Washington and the United States government. However, full discussions of these absorbing stories are missing, such as why did the Quinault tribe contest federal recognition of the Cowlitz people?

Gleaning Dupres’ personal history from the book’s pages is worth the effort, as the author struggles to find her Cowlitz identity. Dupres’ great-grandmother disavowed her Indian blood like many other Indian people. From this, the author wonders if the search for her roots should also include research into her non- Indian blood. The all-important story is the struggle of the author for tribal identity and how it renews. She asks how others in the tribe came to a tribal identity, and in an effort to answer her question she interviews 16 Cowlitz tribal members living in Washington. Dupres asks them, “How do you do Indian?” The question should have been, “How do you do Cowlitz?” This may have led the person to answer differently.

Importantly, the author reflects upon two leaders of the Cowlitz people, spiritual elder Roy Wilson and tribal chairman John Barnett. They overcame the odds to restore tribal status for the Cowlitz tribe and their personal stories are far too short. Seemingly, the Cowlitz people perceive themselves to be acculturated but not assimilated. The author and other tribal members are living in two worlds and their story of marginality becomes the underlying and unidentified focus of the book. The book’s positive achievement is the personal history of the author and other Cowlitz people that enables the reader to identify with the essence of the Cowlitz tribe.

Charles Cambridge, Ph.D. (Diné) is an anthropologist, served in the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, and is an enrolled member of the Navajo tribe.

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