UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Best left as Indians : native-white relations in the Yukon Territories, 1840-1973 Coates, Kenneth


Native peoples form a vital part of the social and economic fabric of the Canadian North. Though much neglected in the historical literature, they have maintained an important presence in the regional order from the emergence of the fur trade to the present. This study places native activities in the context of Euro-Canadian developments, tracing native-white relations in the Yukon Territory from first contact in the 1840's to the establishment of a new socio-economic structure in the 1950's. Economic, social and institutional relations are examined separately, but each illustrates the systematic placement of the natives on the margins of the regional order. Native workers found few openings in the mining and service industries, relegated instead to seasonal, unskilled positions. A distinct social environment emerged in the towns and mining camps, characterized by a white-dominated population and firm restrictions on native entry. Sustained by a vibrant if variable fur market, the fur trade districts developed differently. The natives found a more economically rewarding and socially integrated environment, one mirroring the social and economic accommodation reached during the pre-Gold Rush fur trade period. The major disruptions of the Klondike Gold Rush and the construction of the Alaska Highway and Canol Pipeline during World War II did not change the pattern significantly, as the natives remained only casual participants in the white-dominated economy and society. These divisions between native and white were re-enforced through the policies and programmes of the Anglican Church and the federal government. Both held pessimistic views of the prospects for territorial development and. although they retained a desire to "civilize." Christianize and assimilate the natives. they preferred to protect the natives' harvesting lifestyle until a more appropriate moment. The church and the government seconded public efforts to segregate the natives and sought in a very haphazard way to preserve their access to the region's natural resources. Though the actions, attitudes and programmes of the white population strongly affected the natives' position, native forces also influenced social and economic developments. The natives maintained a special affinity for the harvesting mode, preferring the reasonable returns and flexibility of hunting and trapping to the rigid discipline and insecurity of wage labour. With their religious and social values based on a continuing accommodation with the physical environment, the natives favoured the pursuit of game for cultural as well as economic reasons. Native choice as much as Euro-Canadian exclusion dictated the natives' position in the Yukon Territory.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.