Recording Their Story

James Teit and the Tahltan

Judy Thompson

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  • Published: 2007
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; Anthropology
  • Bibliographic information: 208 pp., 122 color illus., 8.5 x 11 in.
  • Territorial rights: US rights only
  • Published with: Canadian Museum of Civilization and Douglas and McIntyre
  • Contents

Recording Their Story describes the life of James Teit, one of Canada's earliest ethnographers, and his work among the Tahltan people of northern British Columbia almost a century ago. Teit's work collecting artifacts, taking photographs, recording songs, transcribing myths, and gathering information about social organization, ceremonial life, customs, and beliefs has proved invaluable. Today, this collection is the most important extant assemblage of the Tahltan's heritage.

James Teit emigrated from the Shetland Islands to British Columbia in 1884, at the age of nineteen. He reveled in the outdoor life and became, among other things, a hunting guide, a linguist who spoke several aboriginal languages fluently, and an activist for Native rights. Teit's connection to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and his ethnographic work among the Tahltan began in 1911, when he was invited to join the staff of the new Anthropology Division of the Geological Survey of Canada. Teit then worked among the Tahltan, at their request and with the participation of many within the community, in both 1912 and 1915.

Judy Thompson's examination of Teit's extensive correspondence, fieldwork notebooks, diaries, and manuscripts illustrates how James Teit's life and work impacted his major ethnographic studies.

Recording Their Story is part biography and part catalog of the Tahltan ethnographic collection. The book is richly illustrated throughout with 71 rare historic photographs, 51 beautiful color images of ethnographic artifacts, six line drawings, and three maps.
Judy Thompson is Curator of Western Subarctic Ethnology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Introduction: "An Ethnologist in the Outside Service"
1. Jeemsie Tait: "A Real Shetlander," 1864-1884
2. "Wandering Ways": A New Life in a New Lang, 1884-1894
3. "The Young Man Is a Treasure": The Emerging Ethnographer, 1894-1910
4. First Contacts with the Tahltan
5. Edward Sapir and the "Ottawa Museum": 1910-1912
6. "A Real Start": The 1912 Fieldwork Season
7. "Debarred from Going North": 1913-1914
8. Continuation of the "Athapascan Survey": The 1915 Fieldwork Season
9. "In These Hard Times": 1916-1920
10. "A Man of Sterling Worth": 1921-1922

Reference List
Appendix 1: List of Artifacts, 1912
Appendix 2: List of Song Recordings, 1912
Appendix 3: List of Artifacts, 1915
Appendix 4: List of Song Recordings, 1915
Appendix 5: Tahltan Social Organization
Appendix 6: Outline for James Teit's Tahltan Ethnography

"This is a fine book, one that offers an impressive biography of James Teit as well as a catalog of the long-lasting display of Teit's Tahltan ethnographic collection, especially welcome because of the neglect of the Tahltan heritage."
-Journal of Folklore Research

"Teit's gathering of material items is shown in the splendid photographs, many of them in color. . . . Recommended."