In 1985 and 1986, ninety-year-old Witsuwit'en Chief, Maxlaxlex - or Johnny David as he is better known - was the first Witsuwit'en to give Commission Evidence in theDelgamuukwland claims case in which the Witsuwit'en and Gitxsan of Northern British Columbia were battling for title to their traditional territories.
'Hang on to These Words'presents the actual transcripts of the questions and answers between lawyers working on both sides and this knowledgeable and outspoken Native elder who spoke in his own language and whose words were then translated by an interpreter into English. The evidence was given in a makeshift courtroom set up in David's own home. Anthropologist Antonia Mills was present during these proceedings, and in this book, she introduces and contextualizes the evidence within theDelgamuukwcase.
In his testimony, David provides a rich description of the Witsuwit'en way of life as well as the injustices suffered at the hands of Indian agents and settlers. He ends his testimony saying, "If you hang on to these words, everything will be all right." The challenge of hearing his voice, and using it to negotiate the meaning and substance of Aboriginal rights remains unresolved and resonant.
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