In January of 1979, Renee Smith, an 11-year-old Nimpkish Indian, died of a ruptured appendix in Alert Bay. Aboriginal ative people claimed the town's one (white) physician, Dr. Jack Pickup, was an alcoholic who mistreated Aboriginal patients. Within the tiny coastal community, where inter-racial marriages are common, the tragedy had complex and divisive reverberations for years. "People began a petition on the death as a medical issue,"; recalls Dara Culhane Speck, who was a white member of the Nimpkish Band by marriage. "But the situation became politicized very quickly when the government and medical agencies responded to the petitioners as Indians."; Culhane Speck, a UBC anthropologist and sociologist, was living in Alert Bay during the two years of inquiries into Renee Smith's death. The title of her book, An Error in Judgement: The Politics of Medical Care in an Indian/ White Community (1987), is derived from conclusions reached by the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons who surmised Dr. Pickup had made "a regrettable and serious error in judgement."; The Alert Bay controversy escalated until the Goldthorpe Inquiry for the Dept. of National Health and Welfare ultimately recommended that Dr. Pickup should resign. Relatively powerless as a federal inquirer into B.C. medical affairs, Dr. Goldthorpe mainly succeeded in changing the situation in Alert Bay by establishing a new health centre on the Reserve which-ironically-copes primarily with the problem of alcohol abuse amongst Indians.

";Nothing structurally has changed,"; said Culhane Speck. Dr. Pickup, a physician in Alert Bay since 1949, continued to practice at Alert Bay's antiquated St. George's Hospital. In her book, Culhane Speck tried to look beyond personalities to illuminate the broader historical and societal frameworks of the native health care system in B.C. "The field of medical anthropology tends to focus on what is unique or exotic about native health,"; she wrote, as a Ph.D. student at UBC. "Very little analysis is done on what extent the dependency on medical care plays a role in producing native health problems. When the Native person presents himself for treatment, the microscope is always focused in one direction. You have to look at both sides of the relationship."; Culhane Speck examined the Alert Bay tragedy in the context of the village's history and the last century of Aboriginal/White relations in B.C. The Kwakiutl District Council recommended her book as "daringly accurate."; UBC law professor Michael Jackson wrote in his foreword, "In this book we are given... an opportunity to understand racism from the inside out.";

Daughter of prison rights activitist and anti-war organizer Claire Culhane, Dara Culhane Speck was Deputy Director of Social and Cultural Research for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples from 1992 to 1994. She received her Ph.D. in 1994 and has changed her name back to Dara Culhane. As an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University, she has examined Gitksan and Wet'suwet'en land claims from 1987 to 1991 for The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations (1998), a book that includes a synopsis of the Supreme Court decision - known as the Delgamuukw ruling - that verified Aboriginal title to land does exist, but that the title is not absolute and may be infringed upon by government for economic development and settlement. "The Supreme Court's ruling in the appeal of Delgamuukw v. Regina is specifically directed to treaty negotiations in B.C."; says Culhane. "As a result, Aboriginal people in this province have a new 'edge' in their struggle.";

For her third book, Dara Culhane has followed the Downtown Eastside documentary tradition pioneered by Sheila Baxter and co-edited seven 'life stories' of women who share their diverse histories for In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver (2005), with Leslie Robertson. "I feel we accomplished what we set out to do," she told SFU News. "We created a space where they could represent themselves." The book was an offshoot of a five-year project on women's health and housing in the Downtown Eastside, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for which Culhane was they principal investigator. In Plain Sight was shortlisted for the 2005 City of Vancouver Book Award and received the George Ryga Award For Social Awareness in BC Writing and Publishing in 2006. [See Review and Press Release below]

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
An Error in Judgement: The Politics of Medical Care in an Indian/White Community
In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver
The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations


Culhane Speck, Dara. An Error in Judgement: The Politics of Medical Care in an Indian / White Community (Talonbooks, 1987).
Culhane, Dara. The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations (Talonbooks, 1998).
Robertson, Leslie & Dara Culhane (editors). In Plain Sight (Talonbooks, 2005).
Elliott, Denielle & Dara Culhane (editors). A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies (U of Toronto, 2016)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2006]