UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Church Missionary Society Red River Mission and the emergence of a native ministry 1820-1860, with a case study of Charles Pratt of Touchwood Hills Stevenson, Winona L.


This ethnohistorical study examines the emergence of a Church of England, Church Missionary Society (CMS) Native Ministry in the Canadian North West. The intent is twofold. First it will re-evaluate the prevailing misconceptions and inadequate interpretations about the establishment, goals, and impact of Western Canada's first Indian education program. Second, it will analyse the conditions surrounding the decision of the CMS to recruit Native church workers and what motivated these men to participate. Rather than philanthropic evangelical zeal, it is clear that socio-economic and political factors forced the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in Rupert's Land to open its doors to mission activity among peoples whose way of life it intended to protect and maintain for its own purposes. The local HBC played a significant role in the dissemination of Western values, social order, and intellectual tools. It determined who would have access to "higher" learning and the quality they would received. Furthermore, it had no intention of bogging-down its Native labourers and fur gatherers with "civilized" notions that might induce them to neglect or abandon their primary occupations. However, a handful of converted and formally educated Native men emerged from the Red River mission school, where they were primed to partake in the religious and cultural transformations of their respective societies. By the 1850s Native catechists and schoolteachers traversed the boundaries of the Red River settlement, charged with the responsibility of paving the way for European Christian expansion. Until now, these men - their attitudes, activities, goals, and impacts - have been neglected by ethnohistorians interested in Indian-missionary encounters and socio-cultural change. Yet these men, were the forerunners, the buffers, and the middlemen in this process. The case study of one such man, Charles Pratt, indicates that their purpose and loyalties may' very well have been at odds with those of their superiors. Pratt syncretized Indigenous and European spirituality, skills, and ways of life in the best interests of his peoples' survival. This thesis proposes that a closer examination of these spiritual "middlemen," from the perspective of their prospective converts, as opposed to their European superiors, will have a profound impact on our future understanding of Indian responses to Christian missions, and their relative success or failure.

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