'Hang Onto These Words'

Johnny David's Delgamuukw Evidence
by Antonia Mills
rrp $86.16

Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division

Series: Heritage

Publication Date: January 13, 2017

ISBN: 9781442655485

Binding: Kobo eBook

Availability: eBook

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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 the Delgamuukw land claims case in which the Witsuwit'en and Gitxsan of Northern British Columbia were battling for title to their traditional territories.

'Hang Onto 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 the Delgamuukw case.

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.