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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Economic development and the disintegration of traditional culture among the Haisla Pritchard, John Charles


This thesis explores the interrelationship between the disintegration of traditional culture among the Haisla of Kitamaat, British Columbia, and that group's participation in the Industrial economy of the Northwest Coast. Initially, the ecological dimension of ranking and chieftainship in traditional Haisla society is examined. It is proposed that localized variability of resources was sufficient to create shortages within village groups or sub-groups, which would require the intervention of a regulatory mechanism such as chiefly redistribution. This regulation of resources promoted the establishment of populations consistent with the high average productivity of a region rather than the more variable productivity of individual sites. High status accrued to those who, because of the greater regularity and reliability of their resource holdings, were able to act as donors more often than less favoured groups or subgroups. The disintegration of this system coincided with the natives' participation in the industrial economy of the coast. This participation is examined in terms of the extent and type of merchantable resources in the region; their accessibility and availability to native producers; the number, type, and location of markets; prevailing prices and potential income; compatibility of various occupations, both with each other and with traditional subsistence activities; and, the socio-political implications for the natives of their participation. (The removal of the chiefs from the apex of the economic system was initiated by the decline in importance of traditional resource sites, as population decline reduced the exploitative pressure on the resource base that the large aboriginal population had exerted The Haislas participation in the industrial economy further undermined aboriginal social organization by establishing a system of resource exploitation that was independent of the traditional political structure and the services of the central figures. Access to resources and wealth became governed by factors outside the chiefs' control, and in fact placed them in the same economic position as anyone else, in that success became due to personal characteristics, such as skill or stamina (or luck) rather than social position.) Two non-economic factors contributory to cultural change, Missionization and severe population decline, are examined.) The establishment of an evangelical mission among the Haisla promoted change in two ways: the missionaries themselves were often bent on eradicating all forms of native culture that they considered incompatible with their teachings; in addition, by establishing separate mission settlements, they provided a sanctuary in which innovative social forms could be adopted, enabling novel adaptations to prevailing economic or political circumstances to proceed relatively unhampered by conservative pressure or reprisals. The population decline enforced a receptivity to social innovation even among traditionalist elements, who were obliged to countenance manipulation of the social system in order to maintain some semblance of continuity in the face of depletion of the social units and disruption of lines of succession. These innovations were elaborated by reformist elements, which contributed further to the dissolution of 'pure' native forms. The eventual replacement of the traditional matrilineal system by the European bilateral one was preceded by an extended period in which both systems operated simultaneously. This process is considered, focussing on changes in the traditional system of named, ranked statuses and their transmission via the potlatch.

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