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The power of place, the problem of time : a study of history and Aboriginal collective identity Carlson, Keith Thor

Abstract

This dissertation historicizes and explains the tensions that arose between localized and regionally dispersed expressions of group affiliation and political authority among the indigenous people of the Lower Fraser River watershed after European contact. It accomplishes this by directly engaging indigenous historiography and epistemology. The period examined covers the late eighteenth century, just prior to the first smallpox epidemic, through to 1906 when a delegation of Salish men met with King Edward in London on behalf of all the Native people of British Columbia. I argue that Aboriginal collective identity and political authority are and were situationally constructed products of complicated negotiations among indigenous people and between Natives and newcomers. Multiple options were always available and the various expressions that shared identity assumed never were the only ones possible. Consequently, among the local indigenous population, history has always been regarded as an important arbitrator of identity and disagreements over competing historical interpretations highly contentious. To a greater extent than has been appreciated, changes in the way Native collective affiliations have been constituted have been informed by reference to ancient sacred stories and an ongoing process of interpreting past precedence. They are also intimately linked to migrations. Over time and across geography, different indigenous people have used these stories to different ends. Gendered and class-based distinctions in the way these narratives have been applied to either the creation of innovative collective identities or to the defense of older expressions reveal the tensions within Aboriginal society and between Natives and newcomers that arose as indigenous people struggled to make sense of a rapidly changing colonial world. The uncertainty following pivotal historical events allowed these submerged tensions to assume more public forms. Examined here are the important identity shaping historical events and migrations that indigenous historiography has emphasized: Creation, the Great Flood, the 1780 smallpox epidemic, the establishment of local Hudson's Bay trading posts in 1827 and 1846, the 1858 goldrush, the imposition of colonial reserves, the banning of the potlatch, the 1884 hostile incursions into Canadian Native communities of an American lynch mob, and the government policy to transform Salish fishermen into western-style farmers. Ultimately, Western ideologies, colonial authority and global economic forces are considered as forces acting within indigenous society, and not merely as exogenous powers acting upon

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