Her family led the movement to reclaim traditional Gitxsan land from the Government of Canada in the famous 1997 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia decision.
Her nation, the Gitxsan, remain the only First Nation to have successfully won a land claim from the Supreme Court of Canada—an effort largely led by women.
It’s no wonder, then, that when Amanda J. Vick came to Capilano University, she decided to focus her studies on the role of women and culture within the Gitxsan community. Her research in the Liberal Studies program has lead to a graduating project that breaks new academic ground.
Strong women, strong daughters
Amanda grew up in two very different parts of British Columbia: the remote northern town of Hazelton and the bustling urban centre of Vancouver. Between these locales, Amanda experienced two very different lifestyles: one strongly rooted in tradition, the other focused on keeping up with an ever-modernizing world.
For many Indigenous people, Amanda notes, moving from a rural, culturally-driven community into an industrialized urban environment can be a jarring and isolating experience.
Amanda saw many of her peers struggle to adjust to this new pace of life. However, she herself adapted with relative ease, leading her to wonder what made her experience different.
To answer this, she looked back at her upbringing, family life and cultural norms.
“I found that [Hazelton and Vancouver] were very polarized,” says Amanda. “I wanted to explore that, and in my research I came up with this idea of ‘daughter culture.’”
The traditional matrilineal structure of Gitxsan society imbues women with political, social and cultural agency. Amanda’s family is very traditional—she participated in feasting practices throughout her youth and says her grandparents still speak her Nation’s language, Gitxsanimaax, at home.
Add to this her family’s history of political activism—including her female relatives who led in the Delgamuukw case—and it becomes clear that women play a strong role in Amanda’s cultural heritage.
Ultimately, Amanda says it was this traditional upbringing, in a First Nation where women are central social and cultural figures, that has enabled her to succeed in the colonized world.
“Successful cultural transmission is a very important theme in my studies,” says Amanda. “Daughter culture is the successful cultural knowledge transmission between generations—grandmothers, mothers, daughters.”
Although the idea of daughter culture answered Amanda’s own personal questions, she had to prove it before she could apply this theory to other Indigenous women.
“In order to legitimize daughter culture, I had to apply it academically,” says Amanda. “I had to find evidence to make it less about me and my journey and make it a broader academic study that can be applied to other things as well.”
To do this, she turned to her Liberal Studies program, which requires students to complete three tutorials to develop an original research idea. Amanda chose to work with anthropology instructor Robert Muckle, sociology instructor Laurel Whitney and First Nations student advisor David Kirk to elevate daughter culture from personal narrative to an academic concept.
Since the idea for daughter culture was born from her personal experience, Amanda focused her research on the Gitxsan Nation. As a member, she also had ready access to traditional knowledge and important historical archives.
What she discovered was that the Gitxsan people—and women in particular—fiercely resisted the role of domestication that was imposed on them by Western colonizers. She found photographic evidence and written testimony that accounted for Gitxsan women’s adherence to traditional practices, despite colonial influence.
“[Daughter culture] applies perfectly to how we’ve been able to self-govern so successfully and produce contemporary First Nations scholars that have an impact,” says Amanda.
Although her research thus far has only studied the Gitxsan Nation, Amanda would like to apply daughter culture to other matrilineal Indigenous societies.
The wider Cap U faculty has recognized her work, and she has been invited to guest lecture in several anthropology classes.
“I couldn’t have done it without the support of my tutorial instructors,” says Amanda. “They were truly invaluable to me—they guided me in ways that were essential to the study.”
Steel and moosehide
To complete their research, Liberal Studies students are required to produce a graduating project. This can take many forms, but for Amanda, an artwork seemed most appropriate.
Collaborating with her maternal cousin Michelle Stoney—herself an example of daughter culture as a graduate from Emily Carr and a successful artist—the two created a three-foot welded sculpture made of steel and moose hide. The spiral shape is meant to mimic the curve of a DNA strand and represent the important role kinship plays in the Gitxsan Nation, while also symbolizing the familial connection between Amanda and Michelle.
Watching daughter culture evolve from idea to academic theory and now artwork has inspired Amanda to continue her research. She credits the Liberal Studies program for giving her the opportunity to put her ideas into action.
“You can really use your passions and make them academic—I think that’s so valuable,” says Amanda.
She hopes to publish her work after she graduates next year and to begin a master’s degree thereafter. Amanda says she could see herself in academia in the future, but remains open to whatever opportunities come her way.
Amanda’s sculpture, Daughter Culture, will be on display in the Cap U Library until the second week of January. A PowerPoint describing the concept accompanies the artwork.
Submitted by Communications & Marketing, written by Natalie Walters