Vol 34 (2014)

“You’ll probably tell me that your grandmother was an Indian princess”: Identity, Community, and Politics in the Oral History of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, 1969-1980

Sarah Nickel
Simon Fraser University
Published November 14, 2014


Oral history interviews with current and former members of the pan-tribal political organization the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (the Union) provide important insight into both the history of the modern BC Indian movement, as well as the nature of oral interviews themselves. This article examines how narrators of Union history discuss contentious twentieth century political concerns, keeping in mind the continued currency of these issues. This study argues that oral history interviews are negotiated political spaces wherein historiographical and political interpretations are debated between interlocutors and involved listeners. As such, oral interviews of Union members are political on a personal level, whereby narrators engage with the listener to navigate multiple and shifting positions, the relationship between academy and community, and shared knowledge in order to create an acceptable interview space. They are also political in a historiographical sense, in that narrators use the interview to negotiate with their own memories as well as with other activists to produce, debate, and shape the narrative of the Union. This article challenges the prevailing tendency of oral historians to emphasize concepts of collaboration and stable identities in oral history research, and reveals how oral histories of Indigenous protest movements complicate these relationships and the resulting historical narrative.