Anne Cameron's Daughters of Copper Woman
Book review by Monica Friedman
Northwest Coast Indian Myths in Poetry and Prose
This modern classic blends multiple modalities in storytelling.
There are the mytho-poetic tales of Copper Woman, the Old One, the ancestor of all people according to Nootka belief. There are memories of the old ways, the training that turned girls into women and kept society whole and healthy. There are the secret histories, oral traditions concerning the fate of the Nation in the century following Captain Cook’s landfall on Vancouver Island. And there is the overlying story of the women living on Vancouver Island today, as portrayed by Granny, the old repository of all the stories in the book, and Ki-Ki, the granddaughter who is given the gift of this knowledge and directed to share these once-secret stories with the world.
Daughters of Copper Woman is a difficult book in that it inhabits an uncharted and sacred space between legend, fairy tale, nonfiction, revisionist history, and holy book. Anne Cameron did not think up the stories of Copper Woman or of the Women’s Warrior Society that took it upon themselves to fight corruption and inequality in their own society, and later sacrificed themselves to fight the “Keestadores.” In the book’s afterword, Cameron states, “It is the tradition of the native people of North America…that a story belongs to the one telling it,” and “can be passed on, re-told, or shared…Only if the person who owns the story gives specific and personal permission.”
Cameron herself was given rare permission by the women of Vancouver Island to share their stories, as Ki-Ki, her stand-in in the story, is given permission by her own grandmother, to write these stories down, in order to communicate what remains of their people’s once vast knowledge, of the “soft power” of a matrilineal society, of a path to peace and wisdom. Now, Granny determines, the “secret’s been kept long enough,” and some of the world is ready for Granny’s knowledge: “Women are bringing the pieces of the truth together. Women are believing that we have a right to be whole…We must reach out to our sisters, all of our sisters, and ask them to share their truth with us, offer to share our truth with them.”
These truths are the truths of women’s power, a strength systematically pressed from womankind by patriarchal aggression. These are not only stories of Copper Woman’s magical generation of humanity and the tender love affair between a woman and a bear, but also the more timely and frightening stories of the “Keestadore” invasion and the people’s valiant rebellion against the oppression that sought to decimate their culture and beliefs. These are amazing stories, and stories that, despite their absence from the “historical” record, are difficult to dismiss.
Daughters of Copper Woman is a magical book, which tells of the coming of age: of a goddess, of a people, of an individual, and, it seems, of a world that may, at last, be ready to heed the ancient stories of true power. Important ideas - not only for girls and women, but for anyone interested in universal healing- explode from every page in an explosion of loving kindness and intelligent will.
Webmaster's note: The original edition of this book was updated in 2002 by the author to include new material and portions cut from the original. The links are to the newer version.
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