Books, History

Review: Slavery among the Indians of the Northwest

La Vaughn Kemnow
La Vaughn Kemnow, photo taken by her granddaughter Cedar Sanderson in Dec 2014

While I usually review fiction on this blog, I do read a lot of nonfiction, for pleasure, school, and professional purposes. My reading ranges broadly, according to what I’m required to read, or what  catches my fancy. This week, though, I will confess to an ulterior motive. I read this book because of who wrote it, not the content. I was rewarded by discovering that one of my heroes does not have feet of clay, she really can research and write a thesis anyone could be proud of, and cover a controversial topic.

I’m talking about a woman who was very important to me when I was growing up. She more than anyone else, inspired me to want to become a scientist. She always had a house full of books, but my most vivid memories of her from an early age is being outdoors and learning hands-on. My grandmother taught me how to beachcomb, how to identify, harvest, and cook wild foods. She and my step-grandpa Ron took me on wilderness quests for fire towers. Later, when I was older, and going back to college after my kids were growing up, I talked to her about what it had been like. She’d gone to college after her children were in their teens… And when I was an infant. She encouraged me to follow my dream of finally becoming a scientist.

And for the last year or so I have been trying to help her with her own books. I’ve been hampered by distance – there’s almost 2000 miles between us – lack of internet (rural Oregon hasn’t got the best access) and lack of knowledge on my part, which I regret. I just don’t know how best to format a book with lots of images in it. But then a week ago she let me know that she was publishing her Master’s Thesis, a 62 page paper on Slavery among the Indians of the Northwest, and I was delighted. I bought the book and dove into reading it.

Slavery among the IndiansAs I said at the beginning, I discovered no feet of clay here. If you are interested in the topic you will discover a very well-organized and coherent expression of research. The bibliography indicates that she dug into dozens of sources for her work, but there is no repetition in the layout she presents. A dispassionate, scholarly work, and one that can be of use to the historian and light researcher both. I came away from the book with a deepened understanding of the tribal socio-political dynamic in the area, which may be very useful in limning an alien civilization in a book yet to be written. As with everything, for the fantasy and science fiction writer, it’s grist for the mill. Reading about the displays of wealth by the Nootka tribes, I was struck with what a civilization that knew little privation could become, with displays of casual destruction in aid of gaining prestige. What a treacherous, fascinating world this door opens into, and it is our own world, not an alien one. Separated from us only by the semi-transparent barrier of time.

And as silly as it is, I’m very proud to be her granddaughter. I was surprised and moved to discover that she included a photo of herself in the back of the book, holding me when I was a baby. I am hoping the next book comes out soon.