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Imaging the Metlakatlas: shifting representations of a northwest coast mission community Pastor, Monica Leigh


Metlakatla, British Columbia, an 'isolated' missionary village, was established in 1862 by William Duncan, an Anglican missionary, and a group of Tsimshian on the Northern Northwest Coast. The village was widely praised for its success in 'civilizing' its group of Northwest Coast Native people, but, by 1880, was plagued by turmoil between Duncan and Church and government authorities. The turmoil in Metlakatla, B.C. led to an unprecedented move when, in 1887, Duncan and the majority of the villagers relocated to Annette Island in Southern Alaska. Along with this move to United States jurisdiction came shifts in the construction and representation of the colonial project at Metlakatla. Metlakatla, B.C., represented as a model village of equal and subordinate workers, was full of internal fractures which could be viewed through disjunctures among the various representations of the site. With the move to Alaska, the representations of Metlakatla, once constructed in the vein of homogeneous worker's housing promoted in England during the era of Evangelical reform, shifted to present a middle class, American village which participated in capitalism and leisure activities. This thesis attempts to link the shifting representations of the colonial project of Metlakatla to both local and broader political movements. The shifts correspond to changing views toward the Indian and assimilation, shifts from a Canadian/British terrain to an American one, changing notions of the worker and emerging fears of communism, and shifts in the technology used to capture photographic representations of the site. In addition to these broad trends, the shifting constructions of the community of Metlakatla may have corresponded to the navigation of a very specific Alaskan political terrain and to changing dynamics within the community. Thus, through an examination of the visual representations of Metlakatla, B.C. and Metlakatla, Alaska, this thesis attempts to complicate the understanding of this well known colonial project on the Northern Northwest Coast. In addition, by relating these images to the broader political climate with which the site was engaged, the paper shows fractures within the community and possible explanations for the dramatic transition in the representation of Metlakatla in its second setting in the United States.

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