Book Review # 1: CREE NARRATIVE
Cree Narrative is the product of seven summers’ worth of extensive fieldwork conducted by Richard J. Preston. It was in 19631 that Preston began the research for his dissertation on what would become his eventual life’s work. The focus of his endeavor was to survey, study and understand the Eastern Cree people of Waskaganish, James Bay, Quebec. What follows below is a brief, yet critical review of that treatise, its methods and objectives.
Preston is currently a retired professor of anthropology at McMaster University. He completed his Master’s thesis on the works of anthropologist-linguist Edward Sapir, with whom he credits his founding interest in cultural psychiatry2. He began his work with the Eastern Cree in 1963 as part of his Doctoral dissertation which he obtained in 19712. He has had 15 months’ total residence in the field, a further 18 months’ time spent having a local native of Waskaganish live with him and his family, and close to 40 years sojourning with the Cree3. All of which serve to qualify the author in this endeavor.
The beginning chapter introduces the author and his initial experiences upon arriving in Waskaganish. There are a few characters Preston mentions of particular importance both to his cause and the greater community, namely Chief Malcolm Diamond, Willy Weistchee, and most importantly John Blackned. Malcolm Diamond is viewed as a respected elder and wise politician of local affairs. Preston regarded him highly as a steward of the Cree populace citing several instances of his strong leadership qualities. Willy Weistchee was the primary interpreter and guide appointed by Malcolm to aid the author during his stay. Finally, John Blackned was the central figure from which the author derives the bulk of the narratives described throughout the treatise. It was the profound exchanges with John that the author used to elaborate his own understanding and forms...