What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman by Ruby Peter in collaboration with Helene Demers

What Was Said to Me piqued my interest because of my pledge to learn more about Indigenous culture and history. This is a first-person oral history told by Sti’tum’atul’wut, also known as Ruby Peter, to anthropologist Helene Demers from Vancouver Island University. Sti’tum’atul’wut’s life story was recorded in nine sittings in 1997, and this book is the transcript of those conversations. The result is an engrossing story of a woman who worked tirelessly to preserve and share her heritage as well as the language of her people: Hul’q’umi’num’.

“…it is raw, written as shared with moments of rambling, repetition, and the use of very plain language.”

Oral histories by definition are conversations, and this reads like a conversation with your grandmother recounting stories about her life. It is therefore not as polished as one might expect. Instead, it is raw, written as shared with moments of rambling, repetition, and the use of very plain language. This reads very differently from other memoirs or biographies I’ve encountered. As I read, I had to remind myself of that and accept it for what it is meant to be.  

Stories spanning decades are told covering Sti’tum’atul’wut’s childhood learning the traditional way of life from her mother and other Elders in the community. The book concludes with her work later in life advocating for the preservation of her language by ensuring it is written and shared. Her relationship with her mother, including lessons on the importance of imparting knowledge and traditions to benefit future generations, is prominent throughout. Her thoughts on the residential school system and its role in erasing the history of Indigenous Peoples are timely and speak to the generational trauma that continues today. According to Sti’tum’atul’wut Indigenous children who escaped the Residential School System still experienced the pressure to abandon their heritage. This is something that is personally impactful and will remain front of mind.

“…I used to tell the stories in Indian but always in a hushed voice because the Sisters were around. The children would encircle, and I would tell them stories, but away from the nuns where they couldn’t hear, because if they heard me speaking Indian, the children and myself would have been punished.”

Sti’tum’atul’wut

Later in life Sti’tum’atul’wut became a tireless advocate for indigenous language preservation. She worked with the Native Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of British Columbia, working tirelessly to get a diploma program off the ground. Her work resulted in many well-deserved accolades including honourary doctorate degrees from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

See also  The Case of the Rigged Race by Michael Hutchinson

What Was Said to Me is an educational and timely read.


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 is the co-author of the Hul’q’umi’num Dictionary, published by the Cowichan Tribes. She co-taught Hul’q’umi’num courses at Vancouver Island University and was an early proponent of collaborative language teaching approaches that emphasized traditional Cowichan pedagogy. She holds honourary doctorate degrees from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

Helene Demers is an honorary research associate in the Department of Anthropology at Vancouver Island University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Royal BC Museum (June 18 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 077267938X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0772679383

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/35MrnG0 Thanks! 


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