Series documents Jensen and Powell’s work with and visits to the Gitksan speaking villages in North Western British Columbia. Jensen and Powell worked with the Gitksan to produce language and culture material.
Jensen’s first visit to Gitksan territory was in 1975, before they began to work with the communities. Jensen was asked to accompany Dr. Marjorie Halpen of the Museum of Anthropology, Amelia Sussman Schultz (a former student of anthropologist Franz Boas) and UBC grad student Carol Sheehan McLaren to Prince Rupert and various Gitksan villages. The impetus for the journey was that Schultz was interested in recovering her old dissertation notes that she left with William Beynon, a hereditary Tsimshian chief who served as ethnographer, translator, and linguistic consultant to anthropologists including Boas. Although she had never completed her dissertation, in her retirement she regretted leaving the information. During this trip Jensen photographed the Gitksan villages through which they travelled, making special note of the burial houses and totems she encountered.
Two years later the Gitksan band approached Jensen and Powell to create language and culture materials. Powell secured the funding through the BC Ministry of Education and the federal government.
Powell and Jensen lived and worked with the Gitksan in the summers from 1977 to 1981. The first three years were spent focussing on what they have termed the Eastern dialect. In this period they lived and worked in Kispiox, staying in a teacherage the first year (a small apartment built for housing teachers), and moving in the second year to the back room of the house of one of their linguistic informants, Clara Harris. The third year they again lived with Clara Harris until halfway through the summer when they decided to expand the project to include the Western dialect: at this time they moved to Kitwancool (now known as Gitanyow) where they again lived in a teacherage. The final two summers they returned to Kispiox to live with Clara Harris.
Powell worked with a number of linguistic informants, including Clara Harris, Edith Gawa, and Mary Johnson for the Eastern dialect, and Solomon Marsden, with the help of Ivan Good, Maggie Good, Cindy Morgan, Edith and Abel Campbell, David Milton, Olive Mulwain, Fred Johnson and Jeffrey Morgan for the Western. The materials produced throughout the Gitksan project are divided into Eastern and Western Gitksan. The books produced for the Eastern dialect were called Gitksan for Kids. The books for the Western dialect were called Learning Gitksan. In addition to the educational material, other resources were developed including illustrated alphabet sheets, the Northwest Coast Word List (which was intended as the basis for a full dictionary, a goal that did not transpire), and the Gitksan Teacher’s Manual.
As was the case with all the communities they lived in, Powell and Jensen found that work and recreation in small Aboriginal communities blended together, and many of the activities they took part in were incorporated into the language materials produced. Jensen photographed the cultural activities they attended, and they made audio and photographic records of Elders reminiscing about what they referred to as the “old ways.” Both Jensen and Powell were adopted into Gitksan tribes during their time living in the region: Jensen to the Firweed Clan, and Powell to the Lax Gibuu, or Wolf Clan, both of Kispiox. This series comprises all the records created during their stays in Gitksan villages.
The series consists of nine sub-series:
A. Field notes and correspondence
C. Published educational materials
D. Unpublished manuscripts
E. Tsimshian-Gitksan materials
F. Eastern and Western Gitksan recordings
G. Eastern Gitksan photographs
H. Western Gitksan photographs
I. Doreen Jensen
J. Gitksan artist photographs