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Alternative genders in the Coast Salish world : paradox and pattern

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Title: Alternative genders in the Coast Salish world : paradox and pattern
Author: Young, Jean C.
Degree Master of Arts - MA
Program Anthropology
Copyright Date: 1999
Subject Keywords Coast Salish Indians -- Social life and customs; Sex role -- British Columbia
Abstract: The concern of this thesis is the position of people of alternative genders in Coast Salish culture, not only in the past, but in the present. How were individuals with such a difference treated? What forces constrained them? What factors afforded them opportunity? Were such genders even recognized? With these questions in mind, field work was conducted with the permission of the Std: Id Nation throughout the summer of 1998. This paper is based on interviews conducted then and subsequent interviews with people from other Coast Salish groups. In addition, local ethnographic materials—with reference to field notes whenever possible—and traditional stories were analyzed from the perspective of Coast Salish epistemology. Alternative genders need to be understood foremost in the cultural contexts in which they occur, only then can comparisons proceed from a secure foundation. Research revealed a paradoxical situation. Oral traditions in which the alternately gendered are despised, occur side-by-side with traditions in which such people were honoured for the special powers they possessed. Individuals and families operated in the space generated by this paradox, playing the "serious games" to which Ortner alludes (1996:12-13). The absence of a "master narrative" in Coast Salish culture accounts for some, but not all of these contradictions. Equally relevant are persistent patterns of secrecy, personal autonomy, kin solidarity, differential status, and differential gender flexibility that both restrict the social field and offer stress points that were, and are, manipulated in individual and collective strategies. Given a world view in which transformation was the norm, and in which the disadvantaged could become powerful overnight by revealing the power they had hidden, some alternatively gendered people were able to maximize their potential and become significant forces. No formal roles offered sanction, instead an ad hoc approach marked the response to alternative genders and the outcome rested on the position of the individual and her/his family, and their ability to maneuver within multiple constraints. It was this potential to transform a stigmatized status into an honoured role that made the position of the alternatively gendered paradoxical.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/9813
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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