The Royal BC Museum has published What Was Said to Me: The Life of Sti’tum’atul’wut, a Cowichan Woman, by linguist Ruby Peter, in collaboration with Helene Demers.
What Was Said to Me blends memoir, oral history and ethno-autobiography into a narrative of resistance and resilience, spanning seven decades in the life of an advocate for Indigenous language preservation.
“This first-person oral history is the first of its kind published by the Royal BC Museum,” says Mischelle vanThiel, vice president of inclusion and community engagement at the Royal BC Museum. “It is a remarkable narrative about a remarkable person who dedicated her life to maintaining and sharing her language.”
“What Was Said to Me is a beautiful and generous gift our Aunty, Sti’tum’atul’wut has shared with us,” says Samaya Jardey, director of language and cultural affairs, Squamish Nation. “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 documents a period of profound social change through the lens of Sti’tum’atul’wut—also known as Dr. Ruby Peter—a Cowichan elder who made it her life’s work to share and safeguard Hul’q’umi’num’, the language of her people.
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. Sti’tum’atul’wut was the associate editor of The Cowichan Dictionary.
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.
Although Sti’tum’atul’wut passed away on January 8, 2021, just a few months before her book rolled off the press, she consulted closely on every stage of editing and image collection. Royalties from the book now go to Sti’tum’atul’wut’s family.
What Was Said to Me retails for $24.95 as a trade paperback and $11.99 as an ebook. The 224-page book is available through local bookshops, the Royal Museum Shop and online at rbcm.ca/books.