What Was Said to Me
The Life of Sti'tum'atul'wut, a Cowichan Woman
A narrative of resistance and resilience spanning seven decades in the life of a tireless advocate for Indigenous language preservation.
Life histories are a form of contemporary social history and convey important messages about identity, cosmology, social behaviour and one's place in the world. This first-person oral history—the first of its kind ever published by the Royal BC Museum—documents a period of profound social change through the lens of Sti'tum'atul'wut—also known as Mrs. Ruby Peter—a Cowichan elder who made it her life's work to share and safeguard the ancient language of her people: Hul'q'umi'num'.
Over seven decades, Sti'tum'atul'wut mentored hundreds of students and teachers and helped thousands of people to develop a basic knowledge of the Hul'q'umi'num' language. She contributed to dictionaries and grammars, and helped assemble a valuable corpus of stories, sound and video files—with more than 10,000 pages of texts from Hul'q'umi'num' speakers—that has been described as "a treasure of linguistic and cultural knowledge." Without her passion, commitment and expertise, this rich legacy of material would not exist for future generations.
In 1997 Vancouver Island University anthropologist Helene Demers recorded Sti'tum'atul'wut's life stories over nine sessions. She prepared the transcripts for publication in close collaboration with Sti'tum'atul'wut' and her family. The result is rich with family and cultural history—a compelling narrative of resistance and resilience that promises to help shape progressive social policy for generations to follow.
About this Author
Helene Demers is an honorary research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Vancouver Island University. In 1997 she received a BC Heritage Trust grant to record Mrs. Peter's stories. Cowichan Elder Sti'tum'atul'wut Mrs. Ruby Peter has been a tireless advocate for Hul'q'umi'num language protection and preservation for many decades. She has served her community as a member of council, an educator, and a longstanding supporter of environmental protection and community health. Mrs. Peter has taught Hul'q'um'inum at Vancouver Island University and was an early proponent of teaching approaches that emphasize traditional Cowichan pedagogy. She is a co-author of the Hul'q'umi'num dictionary.
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