“Any cultural change since contact with Europeans was presented as the natural outcome of a passive, inferior culture coming into contact with an active, superior one. ”—Dara Culhane Canada’s sovereignty is based on the expansion of imperialism, the growth of capital power and the notion of an inferior culture being dominated by a superior one. Written in 1899, Joseph Rudyard Kipling’s famous Victorian-era poem called The White Man’s Burden directly supports this ideology.
The White Man’s Burden lays out a clear narrative that represents the role that European settlers perceived themselves to have in bringing civilization to the lawless, nomadic and otherwise inferior cultures of Canada. By comparing The White Man’s Burden to Shelley Pearen’s Letters from Wikwemikong, 1845-1863, and David Thompson’s Columbia Journals, it is possible to understand how the narrative pervades many nineteenth century Canadian colonial and religious primary documents.
The essay will examine: first, the defining objectives of the Jesuit missionaries and the Euro-Canadian fur traders; second, the cultural differentiation, and third, the views of Indigenous nations. The conclusion will briefly examine the Jesuits’ intolerance of Native culture and whether it helped facilitate assimilation. Alternatively, it will evaluate whether David Thompson’s explanation of the fur trading expeditions of the West differed from the dominant perspectives present within other colonial sources.
In order to understand the following analysis, the historical context of Canada and the United States during the colonial period must be examined with an emphasis on the early to mid-nineteenth century society. In Europe, the rise of the industrialized state brought new prosperity to European residents, particularly in terms of their social mobility, economic wealth and the institutionalization of universal rights. For instance, with the development of a working class and the rise of a new industrialized state, socialist ideals became the norm in order to protect the rights of the worker.
Therefore, people were gaining more opportunities which aided in installing a much more urbanized state. The push for new ideologies such as secular thought and scientific awareness decreased the authoritative power of the religious institutions which were replaced with new progressive ideals. As a result, the social, economic and political changes were fundamentally extended into the imperial settlements. With the rapid population growth in the European context, an immense outpouring of settlers migrated to North America in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families.
Upon contact with the Indigenous peoples of North America, many utilized the evolutionary principles of Charles Darwin’s theory of “Natural Selection” in order to legitimize their ethnocentric assumptions pertaining to these peoples. Darwin argued that “animal species evolved over time [and] the strongest and most well adapted to any given environment survived. ” Therefore, Darwin’s theory of “Natural Selection” supported the concept of European superiority. The justification of the theory is presented within two categories in order to defend the rationale of colonialism and the resulting subordination of the Indigenous people.
First, the implementation of Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden supported the view of Indigenous people as primitive and therefore less advanced to European society. This directly related to Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism which supported that “European colonial cultural beliefs, or ideologies, set up relationships between colonizers and colonized as a hierarchical set of binary oppositions in which one member of the pair is always symbolically superior to the other. This became problematic as it supported the notion of a colonizer being able to describe the colonized by “…simultaneously describing themselves and the other. ” For example, the conditions of industrialized capitalism influenced the European settlers to cut Indigenous ties with nature as it was viewed only as a vessel of the attainment of economic wealth. Second, in contrast to Kipling’s ideology, the image of the “noble savage” suggested a highly romanticized perception of Indigenous people where they are perceived as closer to nature and existing within an uncorrupted primitive state.
The acceptance of these stereotypes greatly damaged the livelihood of the Indigenous people where kinship relations developed into relationships of paternalism rather than of mutual respect and equality. For example, the Indigenous peoples’ lack of participation in the contemporary policy-making process exemplified the paternalistic attitudes embedded within Indigenous policies. The notion of paternalism became evident in the 1969 White Paper; an Indigenous policy created by the Government of Canada that all Indigenous people assimilate to Canadian custom and reject any further land claims.
In a response to the driving ideologies of ethnocentric superiority, a Cree Indigenous writer Harold Cardinal, suggested in The Unjust Society that “…while the White Paper was presented as a means to generate a socioeconomic transformation in the lives of Native people which operated under the guise of making aboriginals “equal” to the rest of Canadian society, it was also a thinly designed programme of extermination through assimilation whereby Indians were expected to become “good little brown men” who emulated whites. ”
Ultimately, it is important to understand how the paternalistic attitudes embedded within nineteenth century ideologies greatly influenced the contemporary Indigenous policies of Canada. By such means, the complex beliefs and actions present within the Jesuit missions and the Euro-Canadian fur trades are vital when this comes to mind. In an attempt to help the Indigenous nations of North America become more “civilized” and less “childlike,” the Catholic Jesuit missionaries launched the Holy Cross Mission at Wikwemikong in 1845-1863.
The primary objective of the mission was to establish a relationship of paternalism with the Indigenous people and implement Catholic evangelization in order to attain proper salvation and benevolence. Those who participated as the main practitioners of the Jesuit mission were Father Chone, Father Hanipaux, Father Point and Father Proulx. With the growth of industrial settlements having largely predominated North America’s colonial world, the Jesuit missionaries at the Holy Cross Mission sought to separate the Indigenous people from outside European influence to ensure protection from the vices of imperial secularism.
The symbolism of becoming religious meant much more to the Jesuits than simply having the Indigenous people convert. Successful conversion meant creating a connection between Indigenous spirituality and Catholic theology. In other words, by comparing the basis for spirituality of both faiths, the Indigenous people began to identify with the Jesuits missions as the similarities and differences were acknowledged. The mission was therefore facilitated by the Indigenous peoples growing fondness of the Jesuit missionaries who became viewed as educators and fathers.
Unlike other Indigenous people on religious settlements, the inhabitants of the Holy Cross Mission migrated to Wikwemikong with the promise of being protected by the British government. However, there remained one vital condition: the Natives had to adopt the European settler’s custom of domestication as their main source of survival and subsistence. For instance, by implementing an average form of living pertaining to domestication, prayer, abstinence and perseverance, the Jesuit missionaries believed the Indigenous people could prosper with incredible religious zeal and adopt European custom.
Therefore, this eliminated any previous nomadic lifestyle practices such as the hunt, social mobility and land transfer. Ultimately, the aim was to establish a religious Indigenous community that supported European civility and prosperity. In spite of the attempts at religious missions with the Indigenous tribes, the expansion of developing trade expeditions were also becoming largely predominate within colonial Canada. With the establishment of the Hudson Bay Company and its rival, the North West Company, the fur trade became the prestigious developing industry of British North America.
The creation of a dual trade system between the Indigenous people and the White fur traders meant that both relied on one another to survive. For example, the European fur traders would depend on the Indigenous people’s provisions and furs, whereas the Indigenous people depended on the European fur traders’ guns, ammunition and horses in order to hunt, trade and feed. Although provisions and furs were the leading products within this trade, the European traders would often supplement tobacco and alcohol as a means to gain more profit. The strategy was to sell these inexpensive products at a higher rate to double the revenue.
Therefore, by exploitation, the European traders became much more successful in the trade industry aiding to the establishment of a commercialized society within North America. The expansion of colonial industries created a larger demand for Canadian resources where many sought more diverse trade routes. Instead of attempting to change the Indigenous people, the author Dara Culhane explains in The Pleasure of the Crown: Anthropology, Law and First Nations that“…The first rational option available to European explorers and settlers was to behave s guests or immigrants, to recognize the sovereignty of already existing Indigenous nations, to live by their laws and to seek acceptance by their people. ” The Canadian surveyor David Thompson supported this notion. Discouraged by the imperial motives of the Hudson Bay Company, David Thompson joined the North West Company in order to create respectable stronger trade relationships with his Indigenous allies and to expand his explorations further west. By surveying the Canadian Athabasca Rockies, he ultimately aimed to establish a trade route from the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.
The objective behind Thompson’s explorations was to discover new lands, uncover fresh trade routes and establish relationships with the Indigenous nations encountered along the way. Among the Indigenous nations Thompson encountered, he gained credibility and respect and favorably depicted their way of life. Although the predominant objectives of the Jesuit missionaries and the Euro-Canadian fur explorers were very different in terms of their perception of Indigenous culture and identity, both cultures came from similar backgrounds and shared several European customs.
For instance, the Jesuit missionaries and the Euro-Canadian fur traders both came from European urbanized cities. At the time, the cities were becoming much more modernized and imperial in spirit. When both groups arrived in North America, they held onto the ideas of civilization and industrialization when perceiving the way the Indigenous peoples should live. Therefore, the Jesuit missionaries accepted the notion of The White Man’s Burden to justify their conversions and intercept a relationship of paternalism. In contrast, Thompson’s view of the noble savage denoted the Native people as culturally diverse and civilized in their own way.
Altogether, the aim for both groups had been to emerge themselves within a new environmental and cultural atmosphere. Whether the primary intention of the Jesuit missionaries had been to alter Indigenous identity or to aid them to the adoption of the Catholic faith, they strongly believed assimilation would enable the Natives to become a part of civilization. Subsequently, the purpose of the missions had been to educate the Indigenous people of European custom and to have them identify themselves within the Catholic community.
In order to achieve accepted discipline and proper civility, Father Hanipaux often suggested techniques to obtain their goal such as, the construction of schools on the aims to achieve the civilizing effects of assimilation through education. Also, Hanipaux believed that in order to remove any hesitation to evangelization, the Indigenous peoples would need to restrain themselves from European settlers and their sinful vices of gift giving, devaluing trades and the distribution of credit and alcohol.
Next, by maintaining a working market within the settlement, the community could sustain itself and remain independent from outside trades. For example Hanipaux explains that their provisions ranged from “…wood for fencing and construction, fruit trees of several species… maple trees for making sugar, and…. farm products enough to sustain twenty villages the size of the Holy Cross. ” Ultimately, however tolerant the Jesuit missionaries were of Indigenous beliefs, the promise to incorporate Indigenous culture into the newly adapted sedentary world was overseen.
Thompson’s encounters with the Indigenous people differed to a large extent. Thompson did not want to change the Indigenous people’s ways of life, but rather he wanted to live among them and learn their customs and beliefs. Born in a working class British family in the early beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, Thompson received an education and became an apprentice with the Hudson Bay Company of British North America. Unlike others within his field, Thompson specialized in mathematics, astronomy and geography in which he utilized when surveying the Canadian landscape.
By living among the Indigenous people throughout his trade ventures with the North West Company, Thompson gained immense knowledge of their culture and began embracing it. The Indigenous people taught him many things such as how to overcome distress, how to use meditation as a means of personal discovery and how to incorporate Indigenous rituals such as song and dance, into his everyday life. Thompson’s objective to find new trade routes, uncover the truths of the Indigenous people and embrace their culture became one of his primary motivations.
In order to fully comprehend the cultural differentiation of the Indigenous nations described in the two primary sources, it is important to understand their diversity and how it developed. The Eastern tribes were more susceptible to European assimilation due to, as Father Point explains, their “surroundings filled with a corruptible White civilization”. By adopting a more sedentary lifestyle which tied them to the land, the Indigenous identity inevitably changed due to European colonial influence.
Much different from the Western Indigenous tribes who supported nomadic lifestyles, the Eastern tribes were much more agricultural and survived off subsistence farming. It had been difficult for Indigenous peoples to hunt because of the lack of hunting grounds. As a solution to the hunting problem, the Algonquin tribes on Wikwemikong often resorted to ice fishing. In terms of their moral fiber, the Eastern Natives tribes were much more egalitarian and were often referred to as “hospitable people who would always help others with generosity. Ultimately, they exuded good will to create stronger relationships with the European settlers and to eliminate any occurrence of hostility. By receiving a westernized education, the Eastern Indigenous people were gaining a perspective of the world and the advances of industrialization. The Jesuit missionary Father Hanipaux suggested that “Indigenous people needed their own school due to the lack of excitement on civilization. ” Although the establishment of a westernized school led to the underlines of their assimilation, the Jesuit missionaries were nonetheless supportive of the Indigenous language.
The Missionaries viewed education as a way to define cultural identity, authority and distinction from Europeans. The construction of houses, stores and buildings was a prosperous venture within the Native Wikwemikong settlement as well. For example, the access to privately owned land meant the destruction of communal life. Therefore, all of these misrepresentations of Native peoples adopting European custom led even further to their assimilation.
The Western tribes on the other hand, deciphered distinctively from the Eastern tribes socially, politically and economically. For instance, Culhane states, “before the arrival of Europeans […] these nations were diverse in modes of living, language, religion and social organization and relationships to land and resources. ” In that regard, many of the existing Western tribes that Thompson encountered within his narrative and Columbia Journals supported the notion that these nations were culturally complex in their entirety.
Some of the Indigenous nations Thompson encountered were the Kootenaes, Crees, Nahathaways, Lake Indians, Deer Indians, Saleeshs, Blackfoots, Pekenows, Peagans, Chepawyans and Shawpatins. According to Culhane, the groups “—werecharacterized by a hierarchical social structure dominated by Chiefs and Shamans [and] their divisions of labour were based in clan, gender and generation categories. ” As well, rivalry and jealousy existed tremendously among the Indigenous tribes as they largely sought to become the middle man of trade with the European explorers and traders.
For instance, many tribes such as the Blackfoots, Bloods and Peagans were resentful of the Kootanae nation due to their contact with European traders along expeditions. Often, allied tribes would create pacts to deceive their enemies with a propagation of peace. By such means, the Indigenous tribes would steal the provisions and horses of their rivals in order to gain more control within the trade industry. Therefore, although peace was achievable between the Indigenous tribes, it served only as a misconception.
In reality, those who exuded more dominance within the trade obtained more economic wealth and power. Unlike the Eastern tribes who supported a matrilineal system of equal rights among both sexes, some Western tribes differed from this and rather, used their wives as slaves as a means to demonstrate their power and dominance within the clan. For example, the Chepawyan nation would often treat their wives as unequal human beings as the Europeans had to the Indigenous nations. Often, the male Chepawyans would resort to violence in order to exploit them.
For example, women were expected to transport all their provisions while the men carried barely anything, “…little else than their gun and their fishing tackle. ” The unequal treatment of the sexes in the Chepawyan nation suggested that not all Indigenous nations were allegedly similar. In truth, the customary gender roles of Indigenous nations were based on their distinctive customs, morals and attitudes which served to differentiate them from one another. In terms of trades, the Western tribes were extremely advanced as they already had established trade routes and allies.
When the European settlers encountered the trade system of the Aboriginal peoples of the North West coast, according to Culhane and Thompson, they concluded that they “—were shrewd and experienced traders who exerted a good deal of control over transactions by employing strategies such as withholding furs to drive up prices…and refusing to trade unless they were satisfied. ” Due to the ruthless methods of trade and the strength of dominant tribes, most of the Indigenous people of the West were resentful to the assimilation to European custom.
By emanating power as the middle interpreter of trade, the Indigenous people of the West intended to remain the hegemonic leaders of the fur industry to suppress any further assimilation. Although the Indigenous tribes differed quite significantly from one another in terms of their social, economic and political customs, it is important to recognize their origins and how their culture shaped them as a people. Although the cultural distinction of these peoples were important, it must be discussed how the Jesuit missionaries and the Canadian fur traders viewed the Indigenous nations of Canada.
The most diverse views of the Indigenous people were that of the Jesuit missionaries. Despite the new innovations supplemented by the Holy Cross Mission on Wikwemikong, many Indigenous people were torn between two worlds; one of Catholic faith and one of European civilization. Thus, the Jesuits often criticized Indigenous opposition as a threat, feeling as though these peoples did not appreciate their support and would rather become conditioned to European culture.
Pearne explains that with the encouragement of “—making local industry independent from the outside world,” the Jesuit missionaries believed isolation would separate the Indigenous people from any corrupt sinful ways outside the settlement. By often referring to trade merchants and other religious missions as damaging to the Indigenous evangelization, the Jesuits missionaries believed that European corrupt measures such as gift giving, disposal of credit and corrupted greed would lead to the Indigenous culture’s demolition.
However, by isolating the Indigenous people on Wikwemikong, the persuasion to adopt a sedentary lifestyle created a European means of survival. Therefore, domestic activities such as farming and construction bonded the Indigenous people to the land and disposed them of any previous aspects of nomadic subsistence. Accordingly, the Indigenous people would become much more submissive and grateful of the Jesuits’ support and ultimately, see their own actions and vices as primarily archaic and in large need of becoming much more civilized.
Thompson’s expeditions, in contrast, were much different from the typical fur tradesman. A man of true kindness driven to learn more about the Indigenous nations, Thompson sought to separate himself from the hegemonic perspectives towards Indigenous people in order to treat them as equals. For example, Thompson often described the Indigenous people as “noble savages” whose “—manners [were] mild and decent, [who] treat[ed] each other with kindness and respect, and very rarely interrupt[ed] each other in conversation”.
Thompson depicted the Indigenous people as strong, trustworthy, loving, altruistic, kind, prideful, distinctive, advanced, hierarchical, communal and civilized in their own distinctive way. Thompson created great bonds with the Indigenous nations because he saw them as his brothers and allies, and would not judge them based on their ethnicity. For example, when Thompson hired a Nahathaway Indigenous guide to lead him through the Kootanae River, they were led to a dead end, leaving Thompson no means of progression on his route.
As a result, Thompson stated: “We had a Nahathaway Indian named the Rook, as man so timourous by nature, of so wavering a disposition, and withdrawal so addicted to flattering and lying, as to make everything he said or did equivocal and doubtful—such was the character of our guide, and bad as he was (situated as were then), there was no possibility of getting a better. ” Throughout Thompson’s Columbia Journals, his views of the Indigenous people were diverse, but extremely important. When Thompson spoke of all these Indigenous tribes, he referred to them as driven competing for more power over each other.
With the discovery of extensive trade routes, Thompson understood the role the Indigenous people took on as “—brokers and middlemen,” who would trade European goods to all of their nations. Although Thompson and the Jesuit missionaries held different perceptions of the Indigenous people, they were nonetheless cohesive to Indigenous ethnocentric assumptions. Because of the influence of cultural superiority, the Jesuit missionaries sought to save the Indigenous people as they were less advanced and in large need of being civilized.
Incidentally, the paternalistic and superior attitudes within the nineteenth century world shaped contemporary Indigenous policies and consequently, constructed the Indigenous people as second class citizens within the law. In conclusion, although there still remain several speculations whether the true intentions of the Jesuit missions had been to assimilate the Indigenous people to European civilization or to simply to evangelize them; their actions do not speak without a cause.
As we have seen, the influences of ethnocentric assumptions were utilized to justify European superiority over the inferior, Indigenous people. In the terms of Thompson, it can be assumed that he largely embraced the cultural differences of the Indigenous culture as he immersed himself within their environment and treated them with dignity and respect. In the end, although these two peoples exuded different perspectives, objectives and relationships with the Indigenous people, their presence influenced and altered the livelihood, history and culture of an entire people.
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Engels, Friedrich. “Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith: 1847.” In Sources of the Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, A Concise History. Volume II: Since 1340, Edited by Katharine J. Lualdi. Boston, New York: Bedford St-Martin’s, 2007.
Kipling, Rudyard. “The White Man’s Burden: 1899.” In Sources of the Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures, A Concise History. Volume II: Since 1340, edited by Katharine J. Lualdi. Boston, New York: Bedford St-Martin’s, 2007.
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