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Unsettling times : Interior Salish religious responses to the 1872 earthquake in the Inland Northwest Metcalfe-Chenail, Danielle

Abstract

On December 14, 1872 at 9:40pm the Inland Northwest experienced its biggest earthquake since the eighteenth century. While seismologists have begun investigating this historic quake, scholars in the humanities have thus far ignored it. To begin to rediscover the human dimension of the earthquake, this paper explores how the Interior Salish the most numerous group in the region at the time experienced it as a spiritual event. To respond appropriately to it, it appears that they summoned their sumix (power helpers) at snyx w ám (winter dances); sought out Christian missionaries to perform rituals such as baptism and marriage; and turned to prophetic movements, an established part of their religious practice, which had taken on both Christian and anti-colonial elements during the nineteenth century. Many Interior Salish individuals used all three responses simultaneously, unsettling notions of "authentic" indigenous spirituality and demonstrating indigenous adaptability and flexibility. By drawing on more contemporary Interior Salish voices, this paper also contends that many aspects of their worldview have persisted since the 1872 earthquake.

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