In praise of human variety

Xenophilia opening page remarks


Publications by Guy Ottewell




The Sanpoil were one of the smaller tribes of the interior basin of what is now southern British Columbia and northern Washington state. They harvested the salmon of the Columbia river.

It seems that of all the peoples who have lived in the world, these were the nearest to an ideal of egalitarianism, non-sexism, and peacefulness. They respected women, elders, and children, and they coped with the inevitable bully or troublemaker by easing him to the fringe of society until he thought better of it. Even their myths and stories were told to inculcate the mistakenness of violence, rather than to glorify it. The societies most free of crime are those where the sanctions are most humane.

One reason that the Sanpoil had to get along with each other was their exogamous kinship system. They were all related to each other, because they had to find marriage partners from other villages.

It is all the more remarkable that such a culture could exist where it did. On one side of them were the famous horse-riding tribes of the high Plains, with their war parties, scalpings, self-tortures, counting of coup. On the other side were the obsessively hierarchic nations of the northwest coast, with their heraldic totem poles and elaborate social ladders, where men lived for climbing a notch by the conspicuous expense of the potlatch. To put it mildly, there was more than one kind of American Indian.

The Sanpoil are no more. (Some people of Sanpoil descent survive in the joint reservation called the Colville Confederated Tribes.) They were too gentle to persist into the era of European aggression. Now we could use their knowledge of how to live without conflict, but their secrets are lost with them, much as useful plants are lost when forests are destroyed.