Indigenous Missionaries in the Pacific Northwest during the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century (dissertation project)
Dissertation in History
First supervisor: Prof. Sebastian Jobs
Second supervisor: N/A
Third supervisor: N/A
At the heart of my project are the experiences of a group of Indigenous missionaries in what is today British Columbia, Canada, during the second half of the nineteenth century. The project’s regional focus examines the traditional territories of the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Gitxan, Haisla, Heiltsuk, and Haida – the North Pacific Coast, including the Lower Nass and Skeena River watersheds and the island of Haida Gwaii. Despite the centrality of Indigenous engagement in the Protestant missionary project in British Columbia, historians have so far only given little attention to First Nations people who assumed roles of leadership within the Church. In a new and innovative way, this project brings mission history and political history into dialogue by focusing on the entanglements between mission, power structures, and land – a central element in Indigenous historical discourse that has legacies until today.
Active engagement in the process of missionization made Indigenous people not just allies of the colonial state but also actors who brought their own ideas, agendas, and networks to the table and often acted as advocates on the political and legal struggles of First Nations people. This project also shows that these actors not only negotiated between languages and practices of different cultures but also frequently negotiated their multiple identities (as Indigenous person, as mission worker, or as “in-between”) and reflected on these processes of self-perception in their writings. Whereas Indigeneity is often portrayed in sharp contrast to the ongoing legacies of colonialism or Western culture itself, this project disrupts conceptual frameworks relating to Indigenous identity and explores how colonizers as well as colonized people understood the concept of being Indigenous. Methodically, this project tries to break new ground by placing the written testimonies of the Indigenous missionaries at the center of the analysis.