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"The heavens are changing" : nineteenth century protestant missionization on the North Pacific Coast Neylan, Susan Lynn

Abstract

Christianity is an aspect of Native history, not simply an external force acting upon it. This dissertation examines the nature of Protestant missions (Anglican, Methodist, Salvation Army) in their first few generations on the North Pacific Coast of British Columbia (1857-1901) by focusing on Native roles in Christianization. It pays special attention to the Euro-Canadian missionary perspective on this process, the Native spiritual specialists, missionaries, and Christian lay workers themselves, and particvilar everyday events that illuminate the negotiation of Christian identities. My regional focus examines the territories of the Tsimshianic speaking peoples (Coast Tsimshian, Nisga'a, Gitxsan, Southern Tsimshian, with special emphasis given to the Coast Tsimshian)—the North Pacific Coast of British Columbia, including the Lower Nass and Skeena River watersheds. While they never entirely directed or controlled their own Christianization, Native men and women frequently took the initiative and assumed roles of leadership in mission activity, and within the churches themselves. The relationship forged between Tsimshian and Euro-Canadian missionary was dialogic, although not necessarily a mutually beneficial one. This study examines the function of missions and the meaning of conversion, demonstrating the themes of social action, hegemony, and gender in the writings of non-Native missionaries. Likewise, evangelicalism shaped the emergent forms of Protestant Christianity throughout the region, the discourses about them, and added to their attraction for the Tsimshian. Yet, pre-existing indigenous discourse on transformation also informed Native reception to Christianity, and the nature of the Native roles within the mission sphere did not entirely forsake this spiritual history. While the Euro-Canadian mission record dominates historical missionary sources. Native writings illustrate both a genuine evangelicalism and an indigenized Christianity. Over time. Christian meanings were challenged from both within and without the mission context, through revivalism and group evangelism. While the Tsimshian sought empowerment through new forms of spirituality, those same power mechanisms could confine, challenge, and assault their social and cultiiral structures. The exercise of power at the village level reveals how social and cultural meanings of Tsimshian daily life were disputed, contested, and negotiated.

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