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Canadian Indian reserve : community, population, and social system Inglis, Gordon Bahan

Abstract

The central problem addressed in this thesis was formulated in 1965 and 1966 during participation in a study of administrative and other problems relating to the Indians of Canada. As it is now generalized, it has become a problem of conceptualization posed by population aggregates within any larger polity. Most studies of contemporary Indians in Canada and the United States employ as a major model and unit of analysis concepts such as society and community, in which spatial and social boundaries are treated as coterminous. In the first chapter of this thesis, I have discussed the limitations of these concepts when they are applied to smaller population aggregates such as Indian bands or reserve populations. In the second chapter, I have constructed an alternative framework in which the conceptual distinction between people and systems of social relationship is made a central feature. In this model the unit of analysis is an aggregation of people either spatially or socially distinct, for which I have used the term population in an attempt to avoid the unwanted connotations of such terms as "community". The population is regarded not as having a social system in the way that societies and communities are conceived, but as being a nexus of many systems of social relationship, some of which may be contained within its boundaries and some extending far beyond them. The population is thus envisaged as the context or social field within which individuals act. The systems of social relationship intersecting in a population are conceived of as existing as models in the minds of the actors and the observer, with each actor holding at least two: an ideal model of his social context as he would like it to be, and a concrete model of how he believes it actually to be. Actors make choices of behaviour within the framework of constraints and incentives provided by these models, their situation, and the choices of others. In Chapters III, IV, and V, three Indian Reserve populations are described and discussed in terms of this conceptual scheme, using data I collected in 1965 and 1966. The potential of the scheme for explaining and interpreting behaviour and events is demonstrated in Chapter VI, where the position of the bands in the larger polity is analysed, and interaction between Indians and government personnel, the formation of reserve power groups, factionalism, and the quality of reserve life are discussed as further tests of the scheme's utility. In Chapter VII, it is concluded that in spite of differences in organization, location, cultural heritage, and economic activity, the three reserve populations have many features in common, and that these features may be accounted for in terms of the particular interconnections of systems that they represent. It is further concluded that the framework of concepts developed in Chapter II provides an improved model for the description, analysis, and comparison of aggregations of people that do not fit the standard definitions of community and society.

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