Posted by: Tad McIlwraith | May 31, 2011

Learning and Feeling Welcome Despite Our Mistakes

By Jake Lewis

“Hi I’m Jake,” and for all intensive purposes that has been my mantra for the last two weeks.

I realize that just like my fellow field school students, I may be seen to represent more than just myself in that I come with the purpose of documenting the culture of the Splatsin, and I try to do a good job of it. But, to the people I have met, to the friends I have made; I hope all they see is Jake.

I have had some awkward moments, like the time Patrick and I mistook pine for cedar, or the time I broke Randy’s axe on the first chop – “Sorry again Randy”. When Randy asked for someone to help him chop wood I eagerly volunteered.  Thirty seconds and one chop later I had broken the shaft of his axe in half. Needless to say I felt very bad, but Randy, in the same spirit as most of those I have met here, kindly laughed and tried to release me of my guilt. I replaced the axe, but I wouldn’t replace the experience of moving past my mistakes with the encouragement of the Splatsin people. It is in those awkward moments that I am growing both as an anthropologist and as a person.

Yes, there were some tentative first steps. In time we have been, I have been welcomed into people’s homes and people’s lives. It must not have been easy handling all of us, a herd of people, childlike in our naiveté (I dare not call us children because even the children of Splatsin have taken the time to teach us, and it would be disrespectful to them), and hungry to help and participate in any way. But, even our energetic ambition was handled with patience and a kind, albeit a little nervous, smile.

In my time in Splatsin, amongst your people, I have been blessed to share in and learn about a culture ancient and modern. Visiting with you has helped me to answer questions that I have been asking myself for a long time and raised questions that maybe I should have been asking. I hope that my interactions with anyone I have met will do them well. I will do all I can do to repay the kindness that I have received, but I feel as if I will always be indebted to the Splatsin and those individuals whom I have had the honor of meeting.



  1. Welcome to the world of fieldwork Jake. Surely there will be more awkward moments, and get used to thinking of good questions after the time for asking has passed. It’s all part of the process. Bob

  2. it is easier not to do anything so you dont make mistakes…..but then how will you learn? errors and mistakes are what make us great, we cannot move forward without them. its like michael jordan says “26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” so do what ever it takes to succeed, but maybe stocking up on handles may be a good idea!

  3. Jake, I empathize with you! While doing fieldwork in Mexico among indigenous activists I said and did so many things that I regretted later for just being plain dumb. People are generous when we make mistakes, but it is hard for us college-educated folks to forgive ourselves. I think that is one of the hardest aspects about fieldwork – putting ourselves in a position of not-knowing. I guess the real test is what we do after we make those mistakes! Seems like you did the right thing.

  4. I agree with all of the above. And as several of your classmates have noted – humour makes it all better. We must be able to laugh at ourselves or we will never progress (yes, I put bear grease in my tea thinking it was honey – the whole community watched my every move expecting me to have to run into the woods at regular and often intervals – luckily I have guts of steel. And to make me feel better and after letting them know that it actually tasted pretty good, one of the elders put bear grease in his tea too!).

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