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The search for status in a Salish Indian community Baxter, Kenneth Wayne

Abstract

The significance of the contemporary "winter dances" of the Coast Salish has been explained in terms of the Indian's 'search for status'. In this paper I attempt to establish the significance of Indian institutions for the Cowichan's 'search for status'. On the basis of informant interviews, I empirically describe the range of institutions in which a sample of the members of the Cowichan Band participate. Using a typology of institutions, I further delineate the type of viable 'status sets' maintained by band members and characterize the individuals who maintain them. In addition I test a theory which I feel might partially explain the differential participation manifested in the Cowichan status sets but is hopefully applicable to the members of any minority ethnic group. Briefly the theory assumes that: Actors who participate predominantly or exclusively in 'ethnic institutions' do so because their perception or definition of non-ethnics in terms of 'threat' prevents them from attempting to acquire status in non-ethnic institutions. A second hypothesis is also tested, namely that: Actors who participate predominantly or exclusively in ethnic institutions do so because they have failed in attempts to acquire status in non-ethnic institutions. The available data suggests that both the theory and the hypothesis are invalid. Contrary to expectations based on the theory, the perception of non-ethnics in terms of threat is greatest among those actors who negatively evaluate ethnic institutions but who have been unable to acquire non-ethnic status. In order to explain this result new assumptions focusing on the concept of 'negative self-evaluations' are introduced. With regard to the second hypothesis it would appear that predominant or exclusive participation in ethnic institutions is not a reaction to an initial failure to acquire non-ethnic status but more a function of the fact that ethnic statuses are more highly valued than non-ethnic statuses.

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