By Marie-Élise Laforest
My name is Marie-Élise Laforest. At the end of this summer semester I will be entering my third year of study in anthropology and will be saying goodbye to Douglas College and starting at Simon Fraser in the fall. I have been starving for an opportunity to experience the practice of anthropology and collaborate with a community since the first class in anthropology I attended.
It is difficult to convey the extent of my academic and personal growth in such an intentionally condensed medium as a blog post, let alone any kind of holistic image of my experience working with the Splatsin First Nation. This experienced has, in many ways, reinforced my preconceptions of what it means to be an anthropologist. However, being thrown into this work has also shown me that, while I may be aware of the intrinsic difficulties of conducting research in the field, there is a vast difference between theory and practice. In anthropology there is a danger of focusing to intensely on either the individual or the collective. In this way one often forgets the importance of each individual’s place within the collective and reality that any cultural conglomerate is literally just that—a collection of individual voices.
Throughout our time in Enderby a many number of individuals have gone far beyond reasonable expectations and welcomed us into their lives and offered us their time patience. A perfect example of this would be our weekly stick game invitations in which we are assured a warm reception, food and a good time. These individuals have made it their prerogative to answer the plethora of questions we through their way and to tease us for our displays of naiveté. One incident which continues to linger in the back of my mind was the mistake in selecting a rather large and newly oozed piece of pine sap to pop into my mouth during a tour of the community’s cultural garden. It took three seconds to realize my mistake, five hours to rectify said mistake (and copious amounts of toothpaste), and a week for our guides to decide the joke was old…
Yet, we find ourselves in nearly constant contact with only a handful of families within the greater community. In some ways this can be seen as a benefit as our interactions provide us a unique and extensive education on these individuals’ personal knowledge and perspectives, in other words, a case study. Conversely however, this narrow network of collaborators also produces challenges in producing a well rounded study of who the Splatsin First Nation are as a collective. It becomes impossible to make the claim that any work we produce could ever answer such an all encompassing question.
It seems to me this is the crux of an argument to be made against the value of anthropological study. I would argue against this being a detracting aspect of such research and suggest that this is the very nature of human study. Culture is not such a consistent and rigid reality as people may imagine and rather in order to understand culture it is necessary to make careful study of the individual and there place within the collective. The problem lies in the suggestion that any such research does in fact offer a complete and holistic representation.