Association for Feminist Anthropology
Retrospective - Oral Presentation Session
The 2018 dedication of Vi Hilbert Hall on the Seattle University campus was a public ritual acknowledgement of an Upper Skagit elder’s significant contributions to the revival of linguistic and cultural traditions. Attended by powerful tribal leaders, Indigenous literary celebrities, non-Native patrons, and anthropologists, the event crystalized the intercultural milieu of Vi Hilbert’s remarkable life. Through her indomitable persona and canny cultural brokerage in the late 20th-century urban and professional borderlands of Seattle, the local Coast Salish language became the subject of widespread classroom instruction, Indigenous feminisms were forcefully reactivated, anthropologists and their departments were compelled to reevaluate conventional practice, and the struggle for narrative power to Indigenize regional discourse was put on public display as never before. This paper draws upon the inspiration and insights of Beverly Stoeltje’s work, which creatively exposes the performative and gendered negotiation of power relations underlying the agency of women as diverse as Asante Queen Mothers and Texas rodeo cowgirls. Hilbert’s life was one of meeting the challenges of dispossession: first, privately, in reclaiming the autonomy and integrity of her own life and Lushootseed language; then, publicly, establishing collaborative relationships that placed her on local and national stages for performances that subverted settler-colonial patriarchal structures that had long muted, erased, or caricatured the authority and visibility of Indigenous women. Stoeltje’s work allows us to understand how Hilbert’s embrace and transformation of multiple cultural forms and evolving genres—from language and narrative to public storytelling and publishing—continued the process of recuperating Indigenous sovereignties.