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Reactions to contact and colonization : an interpretation of religious and social change among Indians of British Columbia Rumley, Hilary Eileen

Abstract

This thesis examines the development of the reactions of Indians of British Columbia to contact and colonization. It is maintained that religious and social changes which have occurred among Indians of British Columbia since contact with the White man can best be understood when interpreted as phases in a continuous process of development. This process of change began with the emergence of prophet movements at approximately the same time as the White man's presence was beginning to be felt in the area. These prophet movements exhibited characteristics typical of messianic movements elsewhere. Native prophets predicted the arrival of White men, their power and possessions. When missionaries arrived in the area they were generally accorded an enthusiastic reception. The appeal of missionary Christianity is analysed with reference to the millenial ambience established in the earlier prophet movements and to the messages and media communicated by the missionaries. For many Indians, it is argued, conversion to Christianity was equivalent to participating in a millenarian activity. An examination of typical converts and Christian communities established by various missionaries reveals the attempt by many Indians to adopt White culture and realize the expectations apparent in the prophet movements. Disillusionment with missionary Christianity was the result of the widening colonial experience. Although desiring equality with the White man, Indians remained politically, economically and socially subordinate. Conversion to Christianity had not succeeded in satisfying Indian needs and expectations. Indians began asserting a desire for independent control of their own affairs, a desire found among colonial peoples in other parts of the world. But the nature of the colonial situation in Canada has left the Indians a minority group with no effective political power, and thus assertions of Indian nationalism in British Columbia have been directed into such activities as political pressure groups, the revival of Indian spirit dancing and other ceremonials.

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