The Geography of Memory second edition released last month

·4 min read

Eileen Delehanty-Pearkes looks at the First People of the West Kootenays

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The second edition of Eileen Delehanty-Pearkes’ The Geography of Memory was released at the end of August.

“There was a four-month delay due to supply chain issues,” said Delehanty-Pearkes. “It was hard to be patient! So many people had pre-ordered, and some are still waiting for Amazon to ship. The real heroes are the local museum shops - they were first to stock the book. Local booksellers are also bringing them in.”

The Geography of Memory will be available at Four Points Book Store in Invermere on Oct. 4. The book records a quest for understanding, to find the story behind the First Peoples of the West Kootenay; the Snayackstx (Sinixt) First Nation (pronounced sin-ay-ch-kst-h). In the United States the Sinixt were known as the Arrow Lakes Indians of the Colville Confederated Tribes and lived along the upper Columbia River and its tributaries for thousands of years. The Canadian federal government declared the Sinixt an “extinct” First Nation in 1956, eliminating with the stroke of a pen this tribe’s ability to legally access 80 per cent of their trans-boundary traditional territory. This makes Delehanty-Pearkes book a unique story to First Nations in Canada.

“This is a second edition of a modest book I first published in Nelson in 2002. This 20th anniversary edition has tripled in size, and contains many new maps and images, as well includes several essays written by contemporary Sinixt people,” said Delehanty-Pearkes. “Originally, my work was inspired by the curious story of an "extinction" of the First Nation, the Sinixt, who first inhabited the Columbia and Slocan Rivers, the Arrow Lakes, West Arm and Kootenay Lake. When I relocated to Nelson from the Lower Mainland of B.C., I found it so curious that the Canadian government could simply try to erase the story. Once I discovered the truth, it seemed worth sharing.”

Delehanty-Pearkes was born in the U.S. and received her B.A. in English from Stanford University and her M.A. in English from the University of British Columbia. Her work resists nationality and insists on truth. She has written five books to date. She shared she felt honoured when Rocky Mountain Books approached her in 2019 and told her they wanted to produce a second edition of The Geography of Memory. Delehanty-Pearkes has published two books now with Rocky Mountain Books: The Geography of Memory: Reclaiming the Cultural, Natural and Spiritual History of the Snayackstx (Sinixt) First People and A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change.

“This new edition of The Geography of Memory reflects 20 years of research and learning, as well as the strong relationship I have with the Sinixt people, said Delehanty-Pearkes. “The boundary has kept them out of the region, their homeland, for far too long. They are wonderful people, and I wanted everyone who reads the book to experience some of what I have learned. My favourite part of the new edition is the contribution by Shawn Brigman, a Sinixt/Spokane tribal member who has studied and raised awareness about Indigenous architecture. His hand-built canoes, fish traps and baskets are beautiful.”

It has been stressed by popular online columns on the western Canadian landscape the need for reconciliation of people with land. Not only did Delehanty-Pearkes spend two decades alongside side the Sinixt people doing research, in 2014, she curated an extensive exhibit on the history of the Upper Columbia River system in Canada for Touchstones Nelson Museum and the Columbia Basin Trust.

Her second edition explores landscape and the human imagination, with a focus on the history of the upper Columbia River and its tributaries. It reveals the story of the First People of British Columbia’s West Kootenays. Part travelogue, part cultural history, the book details the culture, place names, practices, and landscape features of this lost tribe of British Columbia, through a contemporary lens that presents all readers with an opportunity to participate in reconciliation. A perfect read as we approach Canada’s second official Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“The Geography of Memory would be a great read for anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and loves the beauty and power of western landscapes, and wants to learn more about the Indigenous history of the region, said Delehanty-Pearkes. “This landscape has a several-thousand-year history. Indigenous people are remarkably adaptable and resilient and have strong spirits. These cultural qualities are on display everywhere in the book. They inspire me.”

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer