What Was Said to Me

Ruby Peter, in collaboration with Helene Demers

(1 customer review)


A narrative of resistance and resilience spanning seven decades in the life of a tireless advocate for Indigenous language preservation.

“Life histories are a form of contemporary social history and convey important messages about identity, cosmology, social behaviour and one’s place in the world. This first-person oral history—the first of its kind ever published by the Royal BC Museum—documents a period of profound social change through the lens of Sti’tum’atul’wut—also known as Mrs. Ruby Peter—a Cowichan elder who made it her life’s work to share and safeguard the ancient language of her people: Hul’q’umi’num’.

Over seven decades, Sti’tum’atul’wut mentored hundreds of students and teachers and helped thousands of people to develop a basic knowledge of the Hul’q’umi’num’ language. She contributed to dictionaries and grammars, and helped assemble a valuable corpus of stories, sound and video files—with more than 10,000 pages of texts from Hul’q’umi’num’ speakers—that has been described as “a treasure of linguistic and cultural knowledge.” Without her passion, commitment and expertise, this rich legacy of material would not exist for future generations.

In 1997 Vancouver Island University anthropologist Helene Demers recorded Sti’tum’atul’wut’s life stories over nine sessions. She prepared the transcripts for publication in close collaboration with Sti’tum’atul’wut’ and her family. The result is rich with family and cultural history—a compelling narrative of resistance and resilience that promises to help shape progressive social policy for generations to follow.

June 2021, paperback, 240 pages

ISBN 978-0-7726-7938-3


Sti’tum’atul’wut Ruby Peter is a Cowichan Elder and linguist who has trained Hul’q’umi’num’ language teachers and researchers for over six decades. She is the lead language consultant on five SSHRC grants on Hul’q’umi’num’ stories and four Partnership Development Grants on narrative and discourse structure, pronunciation, the language of canoe culture and Hul’q’umi’num’ theatre. Ruby serves on boards, panels and committees that set policies and provide linguistic support for language revitalization efforts in her community. In 2019 she was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University. She is the associate editor of The Cowichan Dictionary.

Helene Demers is a Dutch-Canadian cultural anthropologist and a research associate at Vancouver Island University. Her research in the Cowichan Valley spans 30 years and includes recording life histories, The Cowichan Valley Community Oral History Project: The Meaning of Home and assisting in the repatriation of a Cowichan Sxwuyxw mask. As an immigrant, she is deeply aware of the interconnection between identity and place, and this thread runs through her research. Currently, she is researching “home artifacts,” the items that immigrants and refugees bring from their homeland, as well as documenting journeys and migrations through a collaborative embroidery project.

“With sensitivity and honesty, Ruby Peter brings to life the cultural training and protocols that have sustained her Cowichan community for generations. A synthesis of memoir, oral history and auto-ethnography, her story is a powerful testament to the persistence of Indigenous life on Canada’s West Coast.”
—Wendy Wickwire, author of At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging

“What an honour it was to read the words of Sti’tum’atul’wut. As I read What was Said to Me I felt like I was sitting with my grandmother when she too shared stories, teachings, culture and tradition. I giggled, I laughed, sometimes I felt a bit angry—but more importantly, I heard the narrative of resistance and renewal. Such a beautiful reflection of Ruby’s vision: to leave a legacy that guides and directs her family—to be honourable.”
—Robina Thomas, executive director, Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement, University of Victoria

What Was Said to Me is a beautiful and generous gift our Aunty, Sti’tum’atul’wut, has shared with us. It is rich with teachings from beginning to end. It is an example of the love she had for the people. What Was Said to Me will be echoed for generations to come.”
—Samaya Jardey, director of Language and Cultural Affairs, Squamish Nation

“The stories contained in this book are wonderful reminders about the centrality of care, and of listening, for a life well-lived. . . Its lessons are Cowichan and invaluable to all who want to live an honorable, and ethical life.”
—Georgia Sitara, for BC Studies

1 review for What Was Said to Me

  1. Alison Rachel (verified owner)

    This is a most interesting book! I ordered it before its official release just prior to the graves being confirmed at Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc in 2021.

    I was born in North Cowichan in 1970 and am a direct benefactor of the work done in the Cowichan school system, at that time, to pass along the knowledge of native dance, language, bead and basket work to my classmates and I, including my indigenous cousins April and Alec from the Cowichan Tribes aunties.

    At that time, the aunties who visited our Koksilah school shares a love and knowledge of the culture which enriches and informs my life to this day. Ruby’s work and passion informed that effort in our region also in the late twentieth century.

    I learned a lot about the indigenous culture from Ruby’s life sharing in this book. I’m about 3/4 way through reading it. I find it so precious, as the daughter of first generation immigrants, to have my own memories and experiences of indigenous life, friends and family in the Cowichan Valley now interwoven in my mind with Ruby’s description of indigenous life fhere. I note that Ruby was born decades before me and shares a lot about the culture before my time.

    Helene Demers shares Ruby’s account of life and ceremony with the longhouse. I remember dark winter nights hearing drumming at the longhouse in Cowichan. I now have a better understanding of proceedings at the longhouse because accounts in this book. This is a rich and precious read. A must for anyone interested in the life of our first people and imperative for those interested in sitting together in this country to build relationship for conciliation.

    I end with this: Easter 1978 my family and I were invited to the longhouse on the Cowichan reserve. What a blessing. We took in the hospitality and ceremony, receiving oranges and glow in the dark crosses as we left. Shortly after, that year friends and family delivered the white, wooden cross to Mt Tzouhalem. For years I could see it out my living room window. That experience is tied to and culminates from a sharing of indigenous culture Ruby’s life was so much about.

    May we learn to love and appreciate one another. Please read this book!

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