Author Tags: First Nations

Anthropological linguist and independent scholar Jay Powell has worked on and written about Aboriginal culture and language since the late 1960s. [See article below] With his wife Vickie Jensen he has produced 30-40 schoolbooks in a variety of Aboriginal languages and co-written Quileute: An Introduction to the Indians of La Push (1976). Their substantial archive of field notes and 55,000 images is being preserved by UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, officially to be donated in 2009.

Powell designed alphabets for a number of Aboriginal groups and compiled various dictionaries: Quileute Dictionary, co-authored with Fred Woodruff, (1976) and Our World-Our Ways, T’aat’aaqsapa Cultural Dictionary (1991). Powell previously taught in UBC’s Department of Anthropology. In the new Millennium he has been researching the history and traditions for the Haisla of Kitamaat Village. Jensen and Powell designed and wrote the CD Rom project Nugwa’am for U’mista Cultural Society (2001).


Powell, Jay and Vickie Jensen. Quileute for Kids, Books 1-6 (La Push, WA: Quileute Tribe, 1975-78).

Powell, Jay. Quileute Language Book 1 and 2 (La Push, WA: Quileute Tribe, 1975 and 1976).

Powell, Jay and Arnold Guerin. Musqueam Language Book 1 (Vancouver: Musqueam Band, 1975).

Powell, Jay and Fred Woodruff. Quileute Dictionary (published as Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Vol. 10, No. 1, Part 2. Moscow, Idaho: 1976).

Powell, Jay and Vickie Jensen. Quileute: An Introduction to the Indians of La Push (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976).

Powell, Jay, Vickie Jensen, Edith Gawa and Mary Johnson. Gitxsanimx for Kids, Books 1-7 (Kispiox: Kispiox Band, 1977-1980).

Powell, Jay and Russell Stevens. Gitksan Language Book, Books 1-2 (Kispiox: Kispiox Band, 1977).

Jensen, Vickie, Jay Powell and Celina Harry: Let’s Study Shuswap, Books 1-2 (Alkali Lake: 5 Shuswap Bands, 1979).

Jay Powell, Vickie Jensen and Phyllis Chelsea. Learning Shuswap, Books 1-2 (Alkali Lake: 5 Shuswap Bands, 1980).

Jensen, Vickie and Jay Powell with Solomon Marsden language editor. Learning Gitksan, Books 1-4. (Kitwancool: Kitwancool, Kitseguekla and Kitwanga Bands, 1980).

Powell, Jay, Vickie Jensen, Agnes Cranmer and Margaret Cook. Learning Kwak’wala Series, Books 1-12 and Teachers Manual (Alert Bay: U’mista Cultural Society, 1980-82).

Jensen, Vickie and Jay Powell. Gitksan Teachers Manual (Kispiox: Kispiox, Hazelton, Kitwancool, Kitseguekla and Kitwanga Bands, 1981).

Jensen, Vickie, Jay Powell and Joy Wild. Shuswap Teachers Manual (Alkali Lake: 5 Shuswap Bands, 1983).

Powell, Jay. Our World – Our Ways, T’aat’aaqsapa Cultural Dictionary (Port Alberni: Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, 1991).

Jensen, Vickie and Jay Powell. Nugwa’am CD-Rom (Alert Bay: U’mista Cultural Society, 2001).

[BCBW 2008] "First Nations" "Translation"

Bibliography (alternate)
From UNBC site

Powell J.V.

Quileute deixis--A study of grammatical markedness in Studies in Northwest Indian Languages, Publications of the Sacramento Anthropological Society 11, Pages 91-109. [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

Powell, J.V.

The predicate in Chimakum, University of Hawaii, Working Papers in Linguistics 4(3):83-112. [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

Powell, J.V. et al.

Placenames of the Quileute Indians, Pacific Northwest Quarterly 63:104-12. [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

Powell, J.V.

Proto-Chimakuan: Materials for a Reconstruction, Ph.D. Dissertation in Linguistics, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Powell, J.V.

Proto-Chimakuan: Materials for a reconstruction, University of Hawaii, Working Papers in Linguistics 7(2). [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

Powell, J.V.

Quileute Language: Book I, La Push Washington: Quileute Tribe.

Powell, J.V.

Quileute Language: Book 2, La Push, Washington: Quileute Tribe.

Powell, J.V.

Chimakuan-Wakashan: Evidence of Genetic Relationship, Paper read at the Northwest Coast Studies Conference, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., 1976.

Powell, J.V.

Chinook Jargon Vocabulary and the Lexicographers, International Journal of American Linguistics 56/1: 134-151.

Powell, James V.

Quileute, pp. 431-437 in Handbook of North American Indians, volume 7, The Northwest Coast, edited by Wayne Suttles, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Powell, J.V., and Vickie Jensen

Quileute: An Introduction to the Indians of La Push, Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Powell, J.V. and F. Woodruff

A note on the Quileute entries of Ethnobotany of Western Washington (by Erna Gunther) in Studies in Northwest Indian Languages, Publications of the Sacramento Anthropological Society 11, Pages 110-6. [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

Powell, J.V. and Fred Woodruff

Additions to the Quileute Entries, pp. 51-52 (App. l) in Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans, by Erna Gunther, Revised edition Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Powell, J.V. and Fred Woodruff

Quileute Dictionary, Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Memoirs 3, Moscow, Idaho.

Powell, J.V., Vickie Jensen, Agnes Cranmer, and Margaret Cook

Learning Kwak'wala Series, Books I to 12, Gloria Cranmer Webster, series editor, Alert Bay, B.C.: U'mista Cultural Society.

Powell, J.V., Vickie Jensen, Edith Gawa and Mary Johnson

Gitksanimx For Kids, Book 6, Kispiox: Kispiox Band, 118 Pages.

Powell, J.V., Vickie Jensen, Edith Gawa and Mary Johnson

Gitsanimx For Kids, Book 7, Kispiox: Kispiox Band, 113 Pages.

Powell, J.V., William Penn, et al.

Place Names of the Quileute Indians, Pacific Northwest Quarterly 63(3):105-112.

Powell, J.V. and F. Woodruff

Quileute Dictionary, Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Memoir 3. [linguistics; Chimakuan language family]

For a Salmon on the Doorknob
Article (2009)

Crows and seagulls are squabbling in the road. From her computer Vickie Jensen can just see the surf crashing on the shore, but the fog has totally obscured James Island at the mouth of the Quileute River.
She and her husband Jay Powell are once again in LaPush, a small native village on the northwest coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, helping the Quileute [pronounced Kwil-LAY-yute] revive their language and culture.
While Powell is off at the tribal school, cajoling a class of teenagers into trying words like kitaxt’ik’als (Go home) or Hista tasi (Gimme five!), Jensen recalls her first visit 36 years ago. In those days, 50 Quileute could speak their indigenous language; 600 could not. Very quickly the number of Quileute speakers on the reservation dwindled to a handful.
“Jay and I didn’t know it at the time,” she says, “but that was the beginning of our life together.”
After Fred ‘Woody’ Woodruff, one of the last remaining Quileute speakers, had the patience to teach his language to Powell, the young anthropologist began his lifelong career as one of the most essential linguists in the Pacific Northwest.
Since then Vickie Jensen has shot more than 50,000 photographs and the couple has helped produce more than 40 language and culture books for the Quileutes, the Kwakwaka’wakw, the Halkomelem, the Eastern and Western Gitksan, the Shushwap, and the Nuu-chah-nulth.
“A language is like a species of bird,” Powell has said, “that has evolved across thousands of generations. How hard would we work to save such a bird from becoming extinct?”

Jay Powell first came to LaPush in 1968 to research his Ph.D dissertation as a University of Hawaii graduate student. When Jensen joined him in 1972, she was already teaching students who didn’t fit into mainstream schools.
“We debated whether the languages of the coast were doomed and how to rekindle pride and cultural interest,” she says. “We eventually decided to produce a couple of schoolbooks that the elders could use in teaching at the school.
“We felt it was particularly important that these materials look respectable, like ‘real’ schoolbooks rather than a handful of dog-eared mimeos. I insisted that they be illustrated with photographs of local kids and of village life on the rez.”
Flash photography was not permitted in potlatches or feast ceremonies, so Jensen learned to work with very slow shutter speeds. “I also developed the negs and printed the images myself,” she says, “Because we were always on a meager budget, we were limited to b&w images and illustrations as part of our photo-ready copy.”
Long before computers were an option, theirs was a thriving desktop operation. They tape recorded the elders and used a typewriter with a special IBM Selectric ball in order to produce the necessary diacritic markings. They used Letraset to transfer titles, hired an illustrator, developed and printed photographs, planned the layout, stuck everything in place with tape or wax, and then found a printer who could print and bind within allowable budgets.
Powell and Jensen invariably lived on the rez, often with a family, and returned year after year. Publications were usually celebrated with a community feast. “This body of work sort of sneaked up on us,” Jensen says. “We’ve been so busy writing and publishing ‘in the margins’ that we’ve never been a significant part of the mainstream publishing picture.
“But we have no regrets. Recently someone left a salmon hanging on our doorknob. It’s the kind of anonymous thank you that really means something here.”

The books they produced are copyrighted for the native band. This approach proved problematic for Powell’s teaching career at UBC.
“The anthropology department might have thought our work was interesting and even important,” says Jensen, “but the books certainly didn’t count for promotion or tenure since they hadn’t been produced by a juried press. Academics were uncomfortable with language and culture books that seemed too much like pragmatic self-publishing, which in those days was categorized with vanity press works that nobody but the author would publish.
“Possibly some publisher might have been willing to help us get into print books that might only appeal to a tribe of 800 and a few archives and libraries, but the process of “real” publishing often took two to three years to accept a manuscript, have it reviewed, seek subventions, edit and re-edit, proofread and print.
“So, instead we did it ourselves, sometimes producing a book in six weeks. The native communities wanted their language lessons, dictionaries, cultural readers and kids’ picture books now!”
While Powell continued to teach at university and write “respectable” academic papers, Jensen accepted an invitation from Alan Haig-Brown to try editing Westcoast Mariner Magazine. It turned into a four-year stint. She has also written books on native art and maritime life, eventually setting up her own company, Westcoast Words, for her narrow-niche books on underwater robots and a guide to local totem poles.

After they produced their first Quileute school books in 1975, the phone in Vancouver started ringing. “We were always on the road in those early days,” Jensen recalls, “heading to one rez or another, as soon as Jay was done teaching spring term at UBC. In 1980-81, when we lived in Alert Bay, we wrote 13 books, helped with opening U’mista Cultural Centre, taught a photography class, and had a second baby. It was certainly one of the most memorable years of our lives.”
Their commitment to the work didn’t change, but technology did, as did their methodology. “In the beginning, we thought good-looking, respectable school books would be enough. Then we realized that while the elders might be fluent in the language, none had any experience in classroom dynamics. So we added teacher’s manuals to our repertoire.
“When that didn’t prove as effective as we’d hoped, we set up a three-year Kwak’wala Teacher Training Project, where teachers would not only learn about NASL (Native as a Second Language) techniques but could share ideas, produce group materials, and get post secondary credit, first through North Island Community College and later SFU.
“Eventually we did our first immersion CD-ROM for young kids. Back in 1980 there were only old men ‘at the log,’ singing the ancient Kwak’wala songs at potlatches. Today, there’s a whole generation of powerful young singers (and dancers) making their own CDs.”
Forty years. Forty books. 50,000 photos.
Plus thousands of hours on reservations and in classrooms.
It adds up to two of the most valuable authors of British Columbia.

-- Alan Twigg