UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"The mound long antedates the present tribes” : the moundbuilder myth in Canada, 1855–1963 Hart, Lily Isabelle


This thesis examines nineteenth and twentieth-century research on mounds and associated burial sites in Canada, specifically Manitoba, Ontario, and British Columbia and the role of the moundbuilder myth generated by non-Indigenous anthropologists in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. What I term the “moundbuilder myth” was a theory held by settlers that claimed Indigenous people had not constructed burial mounds in Canada. Instead, settlers claimed a distinct, separate race—one skilled in agricultural, industry, and other traits settlers saw as positive—had constructed them. Settlers also claimed First Nations had driven out this moundbuilder race. Through examining journals such as the Canadian Naturalist, the transactions of societies such as the Royal Society of Canada and the Manitoba Historical Society, writings of settler anthropologists such as Charles Hill-Tout, George Bryce, and James Coyne, newspaper articles, and physical items such as site markers and plaques, I pose that the moundbuilder myth is demonstrative of and complemented settler-colonial ideology and policy in Canada. The thesis looks at the moundbuilder myth in three ways. First, it considers how settlers wrote about the moundbuilder myth within nineteenth-century academic circles in ways that intersected with government policy and Canadian expansionism. These men were tightly connected across societies such as the Royal Society of Canada and many held financial and ideological interests in the expansion and settlement of Canada. The moundbuilder myth complemented their views. Second, the thesis then examines how the settler public interacted with mounds and myths about them. The settler public learned about moundbuilder myth in schoolbooks, newspapers, and lectures. The settler public aided museums by digging up mounds in their towns. The moundbuilder myth slotted neatly into the everyday life and views of the settler public. Third, the thesis turns in conclusion to the ways in which Indigenous peoples challenged settler anthropologists: through protest, everyday resistance, and ethnographic refusal.  

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