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Politics of cursing : imagining human difference in a BC mining town Robertson, Leslie Anne


In the late 19th century, an English entrepreneur arrived on the B.C. frontier eager to learn the whereabouts of coal seams in the area. In exchange for this knowledge he courted and promised to marry an "Indian Princess." After receiving the information, he jilted the woman and submitted the first coal syndicate application for the Elk Valley. Indigenous people cast a curse on William Fernie, on the region and its residents. They would suffer from fires, floods and famine. This narrative forms the backbone of my dissertation. It is deeply ingrained in expressions of local identity, tied to personal histories and ideas of social justice. Ktunaxa traditionalists officially lifted the curse in a public ceremony in Fernie in 1964. I trace how participants speak about this event and the legend across generations and within shifting ideological contexts. Cursing is an important theme throughout this work. It implies the power that stories have to carry and construct meanings about who people are. My dissertation is an ethnography of ideas about human difference generated and transmitted through time and through narratives. Fernie, B.C. is currently transforming from a predominantly working-class resource-based town to an internationally recognized destination ski resort. I trace images, legends and theories as powerful narrative resources in the contexts of colonialism, war, immigration, labour strife, natural disaster, treaty-making and development for tourism. Folklore, mass media, scholarly theories and political discourses propagate narratives about human difference shaping the ways that people are imagined. Although rephrased and sometimes disguised, fundamental forms of race, gender, class, nationality, religion, age, locality and sexual preference remain intact. In Part I, I look at ideas of difference perpetuated in hegemonic discourses during three overlapping time periods. More contemporary taxonomies of difference appear in Part II. Ideas are transmitted across generations, they are evident in public performances and in narratives of place and space. Through participants' accounts I examine intersections between personal expressions and official narratives.

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