UBC Theses and Dissertations
All is one : becoming Indigenous and Baha'i in global North America Horton, Chelsea Dawn
This study offers fresh perspective on Indigenous identity, conversion, and community. It does so through the little-studied lens of the Baha’i Faith, a religion of mid-nineteenth-century Iranian origin based on principles of oneness and a global vision of “unity in diversity.” Several thousand Indigenous people “declared” (or converted, as other faiths more commonly put it) as Baha’is in North America during the second half of the twentieth century. This study considers, by way of oral history, how and why Indigenous individuals from a broad range of backgrounds in both Canada and the United States, people who now share a sense of community, became Baha’is in this period. It demonstrates the dynamic interplay between their practices of Indigenous identities and of the Baha’i religion. Indeed, challenging conventional (and colonial) readings of Indigenous conversion and identity, which frame the first as assimilation and the second as static, this study illustrates that for many Indigenous adherents the process of becoming Baha’i was at once a process of becoming Indigenous. For some, becoming a Baha’i served to strengthen an existing sense of self as Indigenous, outside colonial strictures. For others, it was in fact through their Baha’i observance that they came to openly identify as Indigenous for the first time. Baha’i declaration and practice also brought adherents into new Indigenous and intercultural interaction, both in and outside the Baha’i community. Indigenous Baha’is often worked to realize their religious vision of peace and unity in diversity through outreach and service among other Indigenous people, in North America and elsewhere. In the process, they produced a sense of global Indigenous identification and made multiple contributions to such fields as Indigenous health, education, and cultural revitalization. In building Baha’i community, specifically, they also forged striking relationships of mutual respect with non-Indigenous adherents, while also confronting colonial tensions of intercultural communication and normative patterns of non-Indigenous practice and privilege. This study, then, further illuminates the pain and the promise of forging unity in diversity in Indigenous, and global, North America.
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