Leslie A. Robertson

Broadly, my research examines the circulation of forms of social knowledge (public histories, academic theories and representations, colonial legends, medical discourses), in sensitive political and cultural contexts (settler colonialism, medical crises, resource extraction, tourism development).

Primary ethnographic projects include research on: indigenous and settler historiographies; colonial regimes of difference, spectacle and narrative; and political histories of resistance in settler nations. As well, I explore forms of power and representation in the context of urban marginalization (drug use, sex work, health, and violence). I have conducted ethnographic, ethno-historical and applied research and coordinated a number of regional oral history projects with members of settler communities and First Nations in Western Canada. I am interested in community-based research, community-generated methodologies, and collaborative forms of ethnographic writing.

My recent research focuses on the afterlife of historical colonialism, how people from diverse cultural and social locations inhabit their histories, the imaginative resources they draw upon to speak about them, and the role of anthropology in translating and interpreting them. This includes attention to social projects linked to First Nations’ goals of self-determination: the re-inhabitance of histories and territories, naming practices, traditional food activism, and cultural impact research.  I have developed a critical interest in community-generated and collaborative methodologies. 

Recent Research

2012 -2015 Reasserting ‘Namgis Food Sovereignty in an Era of Climate Change OR, Three Boats and a Pickup Truck. Peter Wall Solutions Initiative.

2011- 2016 Repatriating Identity: Feasting and Potlatching to Reconcile Difficult Pasts.Humanities and Social Sciences Research Grant.

I am a cultural anthropologist who has conducted a variety of academic and applied ethnographic projects in Western Canada. Research and community collaborations include work on: intergenerational biography; aboriginal activism and historical colonial processes; street drug use, violence and homelessness; place-making and memory; difference; stigmatization and women’s health.
Primary Research Projects:
Currently collaborating with First Nations in British Columbia to characterize their relationships to their traditional territories for their own uses.
(2002 -2011) I was invited by members of the Kwaguł Gixsam to research and write a collaborative, intergenerational history about their ancestor Ga’ax̱sta’las / Jane Constance Cook (1870-1951), a Kwakwaka’wakw leader and activist who testified at the McKenna-McBride Royal Commission, was the only woman on the executive of the Allied Indian Tribes of BC, and was a fierce advocate for the material needs of women and children. Through co-analyses of oral histories and archival materials, we examined the repetitive stream of scholarly narratives that misrepresent her motivations for criticizing customary practices surrounding the potlatch.  Our co-authored book Standing Up with Ga’ax̱sta’las: Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church and Custom (2012), narrates a history of the political suppression of aboriginal institutions, the rise of new forms of indigenous expression and their entanglement with early American cultural anthropology. Ga’ax̱sta’las’s descendants introduce a gendered history of the potlatch, discussing shifting marriage practices in the on-going contexts of  colonial incursion, Kwakwaka’wakw assertions of sovereignty and cultural reproduction. The book presents histories of fishing rights, of living with TB and social and economic change in their villages. Research included attention to diverse methodologies, memory practices and processes of cultural renewal as the Kwagu’ł Gixsam  “stepped back into their history” through feasting and potlatching.
(2000-2004) As part of a team of researchers with ‘Health and Home: Relationships between Health and Housing Among Low Income Women in Downtown Eastside Vancouver’ (Dr. Dara Culhane, PI), I met with fourteen aboriginal women over the course of a year to speak about their perceptions of health and housing. A co-edited book, In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver (2005), resulted from the longitudinal, ethnographic research with street-involved women. This collection of seven life stories was collaboratively edited with the narrators. The intention was to confront and challenge the familiar stereotypes applied to drug users, to “wayward women,” and to those who live with disease and/or mental illness; to complicate prevalent media depictions of urban poverty, the “drug problem,” “prostitution” and statistics on crime and violence.
(1997- 2000)  I conducted an ethnographic study exploring  stories that fuel ideas about human difference. I was interested in popular understandings about “race,” and “foreignness,” regional, class and religious identities and I worked with residents of Fernie BC, a coal mining town transforming into an international ski resort. The starting point was a popular local legend about an indigenous curse cast on the valley in the nineteenth century. Successive interpretations of the story revealed a complicated landscape of memory linked to   European imaginaires, to official and contested histories of immigration and colonialism, social and scientific theories, and political discourses. This work resulted in the publication of, Imagining Difference: Legend, Curse and Spectacle in a Canadian Mining Town (2005).
 Selected Applied Projects:
(2011) Cultural impact assessment of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. With the Gitga’at First Nation, Hartley Bay, British Columbia. (With Terre Satterfield, Nancy Turner and Anton Pitts).
(2004) Researcher: ‘Homecare for Homeless People with HIV’ and, ‘Aboriginal Drug User Support Networks.’ Health Research and Methods Training Facility, Simon Fraser University. (Dr. Cindy Patton, PI).
(2003-04) Coordinator / Researcher: Emerging Voices: Developing a Collaborative Strategy to Address Violence against Women in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Status of Women Canada / Women’s Information Safe House Society [WISH], Vancouver, BC.
(1998-99) Coordinator / Researcher: Elk Valley Italian Oral History Project: Festa Italiana. (Oral History). The Royal British Columbia Museum / Fernie and District Historical Society.
(1995) Coordinator / Researcher: Waterton Lakes National Park Centennial Oral History Project. Parks Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park / Waterton Lakes National Park Community Association, Alberta.


Robertson, Leslie and the Kwaguł Gixsam. 2012. Standing Up with Ga’axsta’las: Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church and Custom. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Robertson, Leslie. 2005. Imagining Difference: Legend, Curse and Spectacle in a Canadian Mining Town. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Robertson, Leslie and Dara Culhane, eds. 2005. In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Vancouver: Talonbooks.


2007 Taming Space: Drug Use, HIV and Homemaking in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Gender, Place and Culture 14(5):527-549.

2006 Risk, Citizenship and Public Discourse: Coeval Dialogues on War and Health in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Medical Anthropology 25(4):297-330.

1998 A Penny for Your Thoughts: (Cultural) Properties of Anthropology in a Transnational Present, Anthropologica, XL (2): 97–214.

Recent Chapters and Research Reports

Robertson, Leslie  2016    Cultural Anthropology: Methodological Possibilities, in Ethnology, Ethnography and  Cultural Anthropology. Edited by Paolo Barbaro, in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems  (EOLSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, EOLSS Publishers, Paris, France, [http://www.eolss.net]. 26,000 words includes a glossary of terms and annotated  bibliography of key references.

Terre Satterfield, Leslie Robertson, Anton Pitts and Diane Jacobsen and the ‘Namgis First Nation. 2015 Re-asserting ‘Namgis Food Sovereignty in an Era of Climate Change, OR Three Boats and a Pick-up Truck. (109pp. + appendices). Peter Wall Solutions Grant.https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/facultyresearchandpublications/52383/items/1.0307423

Terre Satterfield, Leslie Robertson, Nancy Turner, and Anton Pitts. 2012 ‘Being Gitka’a’ata: A Baseline Report on Gitka’a’ata Way of Life, a Statement of Cultural Impacts Posed by the Northern Gateway Pipeline, and a Critique of the ENGP Assessment Regarding Cultural Impacts.’ (125pp). Submitted to the National Energy Board, Joint Review Panel.



Winter 2017
No ANTH course(s) were found for W2017 term.Winter 2017
No ANTH course(s) were found for W2017 term.Winter 2017
No ANTH course(s) were found for W2017 term.
ANTH 332 Oral Traditions:Performance & Power

This course explores the dynamic power of oral expression, its manifold forms, meanings and consequences within diverse cultural and socio-political contexts. Oral traditions and other speech acts are embedded within particular histories of place and identity that are continually and communally unfolding. They are enacted and created for different audiences across shifting interpretive contexts and within various webs of power. Primary questions addressed in this course include: Who controls meaning? How are speech acts and their performances related to diverse forms of knowledge and action?

ANTH 516 Qualitative Research: Ethnography

Research is an imaginative and empirical endeavor embedded in disciplinary histories and in particular contexts of power which generate questions about ethical conduct, knowledge-production and responsibility. As a social process, research requires continuous re-evaluation, reflection and responses to everyday events and to people with whom we work. This seminar offers a critical examination of qualitative methods framed by the anthropological approach to ethnography, including: ethical thresholds, interviewing, oral and archival history, participatory research, collaboration and public scholarship.

Robertson, Leslie A. with the Kwagu’ł Gixsam Clan, Standing Up with Ga’axsta’las:  Jane Constance Cook and the Politics of Memory, Church, and  Custom. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2012.

2015   Finalist (1 of 5), François-Xavier Garneau Medal, Canadian Historical Association, (shortlist March).

2014   Canadian Committee on Women’s History Book Prize.  Women’s and Gender History. Canadian Historical Association, (May).

2013  ‘Exemplary Title,’ American Association of University Presses, (November).

2013  Wheeler-Voegelen Prize, American Society for Ethnohistory, (September).

2013  Canadian Aboriginal History Book Prize, Canadian Historical Association, (June).

2013  Clio Book Prize – British Columbia, Canadian Historical Association, (June).

2013  Finalist, Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Book Prize, Province of British Columbia, (May).

2013   K.D. Srivastava Prize (1 of 2), Office of the Vice-President Research and UBC Press, University of British Columbia (March).


Robertson, Leslie and Dara Culhane,  In  Plain Sight:Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005.

2006     Winner, George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature and Publishing, George Ryga Society, BC Bookworld, and CBC Radio.

2005    Finalist, City of Vancouver Book Award, In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown   Eastside Vancouver. City of Vancouver.