Best Left as Indians

Best Left as Indians: Native-White Relations in the Yukon Territory, 1840-1973

KEN S. COATES
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztbc
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  • Book Info
    Best Left as Indians
    Book Description:

    The indigenous population, Coates stresses, has not been passive in the face of expansion by whites. He argues that Native people have played a major role in shaping the history of the region and determining the relationship with the immigrant population. They recognized the conflict between the material and technological advantages of an imposed economic order and the desire to maintain a harvesting existence. While they readily accepted technological innovations, they resisted the imposition of an industrial, urban environment. Contemporary land claims show their long-standing attachment to the land and demonstrate a continued, assertive response to non-Native intervention.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6261-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-1)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. 2-2)
  7. Introduction: The Background
    (pp. 3-16)

    The ancestors of the Natives of the Yukon River basin reached North America across the Bering Strait land bridge, a fact long recognized by the Natives but only recently by scholars.¹ One government official, visiting the Copper (Xanana) Indians near Kluane Lake in 1908, said: “They have a tradition that they came from a distant country lying to the North. Their idea is that the Tribe migrated from Northern Asia, walking over. Many of their ordinary words such as those for fire and water are the same as in the dialects of Northern China.”² Scholars eventually reached much the same...

  8. PART ONE: Economic Relations
    • [PART ONE: Introduction]
      (pp. 19-20)

      The historical assessment of Native-European contact in Canada has been dominated by consideration of its economic implications. A vibrant and on-going debate over the role of Native people in the fur trade¹ is central to this historiography, but studies of Indian involvement in the British Columbia economy² and the economic lives of the Dakota³ and Plains Cree⁴ have broadened the analysis to take into account the years of settlement and industrialization. The emphasis on economic activities is crucial to an understanding of the Natives’ changing role in Canadian society. Native involvement in the fur trade, mining, farming, and industry illustrates...

    • CHAPTER ONE Economic Relations in the Fur-trade Era
      (pp. 21-31)

      The aboriginal inhabitants of the upper Yukon River valley felt the impact of the expanding European fur trade long before the arrival of the first white men.¹ The traders of the Russian American Fur Company did not extend their operations beyond the Pacific coast and the lower reaches of the Yukon River, but exchange between Native groups ensured that Russian trade goods passed into the interior. After the HBC expanded to the northwest following the 1821 merger with its long-time rival, the NWC explorers working along the Liard and Mackenzie rivers found numerous signs of the extensive reach of the...

    • CHAPTER TWO Indians and the Mining Frontier
      (pp. 32-46)

      The arrival of miners in the Yukon River valley quickly altered both its economic base and the Natives’ place in the regional order. Yet the fur trade did not stop. Neither the withdrawal of the HBC from Fort Youcon nor the steady advance of the gold-mining frontier slowed the trade in furs. There would, however, no longer be a single cash economy as in the past. Instead, the region’s marketable wealth came from two sectors – mining and fur trading – with only tenuous links between the two. The Natives’ role in this evolving economic order would be determined by the comparative...

    • CHAPTER THREE Yukon Indians in the Post-1900 Economy
      (pp. 47-70)

      The Klondike gold rush pushed the Yukon Indians to the periphery of the regional economy. The returns from gold-fields soon slowed, and many miners left the region as quickly as they had arrived. The future course of the territorial economy lay uncharted, no obvious successor emerged to replace the rich placer fields. Yet the magnitude and intensity of the upheaval experienced from 1896 to 1905 would remain unmatched until the Second World War, when American soldiers and construction workers invaded the region and recast the territorial economy. Though short-lived, the Klondike gold rush had reshaped the territorial order.

      Initially, the...

  9. PART TWO: The Nature of Social Contact
    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 73-75)

      The meeting of Native and non-Native people in the Canadian north involved far more than economic accommodation. It also brought together individuals with very different cultural values and expectations. The social relationship that developed was never completely separate from economic concerns, nor was it totally removed from the efforts of church and state to administer the aboriginal people. The values, attitudes, and patterns that emerged out of the fur trade and that continued through the first half of the twentieth century reveal a great deal about non-Native aspirations for the Yukon Territory and Native efforts to reach a social accommodation...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Native-White Social Relations: From the Fur Trade to the Gold Rush
      (pp. 76-85)

      Work by Sylvia Van Kirk and Jennifer Brown has done much to document the nature of social interaction in the fur-trade era. For the purposes of this study, Van Kirk’s analysis of changing marital patterns is of particular relevance. Focusing primarily on the Red River settlement and southern districts, Van Kirk argues that by the 1840s fur traders were choosing white women over Métis and Natives and long-term relationships with Native women were no longer accepted practice for HBC employees.¹ The new era was seemingly signalled in the Yukon with the opening of Fort Youcon in 1847. The fort's first...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Native-White Social Relations: After the Gold Rush
      (pp. 86-108)

      The outmigration of non-Natives following the gold rush gave the Indians renewed numerical importance. The years from 1900 to the construction of the Alaska Highway did not, however, see significant alterations in existing patterns of social integration. Instead, the institutionalization of rigid exclusion of Natives from the dominant society characterized this forty-year period. The separateness of the races originated in the dualistic character of the regional economy and was supported by strong racist attitudes. The trapping business, which drew Natives and non-Natives together, stood in sharp contrast to the exclusive mining economy. The majority of the non-Natives, cloistered in protected...

  10. PART THREE: Church, State, and the Native People in the Yukon Territory
    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 111-113)

      As the previous chapters have documented, a combination of economic and social forces relegated Yukon Natives to the margins of territorial society. These processes, reflecting broadly based non-Native attitudes and aboriginal values, generally lacked sharp focus or direction. They were, in Ralph Linton’s phrase, examples of non-directed cultural change. But there were additional forces at work in the territory which, in contrast, sought deliberately to alter the shape and substance of indigenous life. The church and the national government approached the Native people with purpose and intent. Missionaries and government officials attempted, with varying degrees of success, to recast aboriginal...

    • CHAPTER SIX Religion and the Yukon Indians
      (pp. 114-134)

      Although there is considerable historical writing on the role of missionaries and government officials in the north, their activities have seldom been assessed with a critical eye. Studies of the churches, written typically by members of the clergy and published by the missionary or church press, tend toward hagiographic treatment of “wilderness saints” who left the comforts of southern Canada, England, or France to spread the Gospel to the “uncivilized savages” of the far northwest. These accounts seldom advance beyond narratives of the missionaries’ time in the north;¹ little effort is made to explain the Natives’ response to the work...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Through the Children: Education and Yukon Natives
      (pp. 135-158)

      From its first days in the Yukon River basin, the Anglican Church recognized the potential of education as a tool of assimilation. Together with attempts at Christianization, schooling promised to bring Native people closer to the standards of British/Canadian society. Indeed the two were intricately intertwined, since the curriculum was laced with Christian values. The churches, with financial support from the federal government, directed their effort at the children, who were deemed most vulnerable to cultural transformation. In this realm, as with missionary work, the Anglican church enjoyed a virtual monopoly, proceeding unchallenged until Roman Catholic and Baptist rivals appeared...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Federal Government and Yukon Natives
      (pp. 159-186)

      The federal government played a major role in the evolution of Native-white relations in the Yukon Territory. Its activities, conducted by such officials as police officers, Indian agents, and Ottawa-based civil servants, varied widely, from imposing a legal structure and police force on the region to financing educational programs, and included efforts to restrict Native access to the towns. Since government officials operated without the doctrinal commitment of the clergy, they often served as a buffer between the non-Native and indigenous populations.

      Historical assessments of federal Indian policy typically emphasize the British or Canadian origins of programs and initiatives aimed...

  11. PART FOUR: Yukon Indians and the Changing North, 1950–1990
    • [PART FOUR: Introduction]
      (pp. 189-190)

      With the completion of the Alaska Highway, the CANOL pipeline project, and the Northwest Staging Route airfields (collectively known as the Northwest Defence Projects) during the Second World War, the old order in the Yukon Territory quickly passed.¹ The construction of the Alaska Highway and Canol pipeline, combined with new airfields, additional roads, telephone lines, and ancillary projects, tore the region from its pre-war isolation and ensured that it would become an integral part of what Canadian promoters enthusiastically labelled the “New North.”² One official wrote of this invasion: “The boom days of the war when the Alaska Highway and...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Modern Economy
      (pp. 191-200)

      After the Second World War Yukon Native people discovered that, despite the rhetoric of government agents and politicians, non-Indian society had little room for them. This was particularly true on the economic front, where traditional aboriginal skills seemed archaic and useless. Their marginalization, by itself, was nothing novel, for Native people had only been peripherally attached to the industrial or wage economy in the past. A serious decline in the harvesting economy, however, weakened the major underpinnings of Native life in the Yukon and forced a new response to the rapidly changing conditions.

      The decline of the fur trade began...

    • CHAPTER TEN Religion and Education
      (pp. 201-208)

      Before 1950 religion and education had been the pillars of a fitful effort to assimilate the Native people of the Yukon Territory. Although the federal government generally ignored church appeals that Indians be integrated into the Canadian mainstream, it felt obliged to respond to the missionaries’ demands that the rudiments of a formal education be provided. The residential school in Carcross and unstable network of day schools created across the territory did little to speed the Natives’ entry into non-Native society, but they did prove somewhat disruptive of aboriginal life. The clergy enjoyed greater success with their spiritual message, although...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Government and Indians in the Modern North
      (pp. 209-218)

      The Indians’ continued resistance to efforts at assimilation, combined with the increasing poverty and social distress evident on reserves across the country, provided stark evidence of the failure of government policy to effect “positive” changes among the Indians. The establishment in 1946 of a special joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons to investigate the Indian Act and make recommendations for improvement was but the most public sign of a clear malaise within the administration of Indian affairs in Canada. The committee’s report, implemented legislatively in 1951, changed little. Earlier coercive measures, against such Native rituals as the...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Indians and Non-Native Society
      (pp. 219-230)

      The rapid expansion of mining, road-building, and government services in the Yukon Territory pushed the Indians into the background of territorial society. By 1971 the Yukon’s population stood at 18,235, of whom 2,590 were status Indians. As before, the non-Native remained extremely transient in the post-war era, passing quickly in and out of the north on government or military service or working temporarily in the expanding service and mining industries. Yukon Indians found themselves unwelcome in the increasingly middle-class territorial society, where fewer and fewer of the non-Natives had more than passing contact with the Native people.

      There was a...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Fighting for Their Place: The Emergence of Native Land Claims
      (pp. 231-243)

      In 1973 the Yukon Native Brotherhood tabled Canada’s first comprehensive land claim, collected in a document calledTogether Today for Our Children Tomorrow.The Indians’ sweeping demands sent shock waves through the territory.¹Together Todayincluded an angry indictment of the role of non-Natives in Yukon history, from the fur traders and missionaries to contemporary government officials. A number of non-Native Yukoners had clung to the belief that the Indians had accepted the developments of the past, and had developed a respect for the triumvirate of western civilization: religion, education, and government. The land claim set that perception to rest....

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 244-250)

    While the specifics of the Yukon case are, of course, unique to the territory, the general pattern of Native-white relations described herein can be seen across the Canadian north.¹ Canadian academics have begun to examine this process in considerable detail. Charles Bishop’s ethnohistorical study of the northern Ojibway,² Hugh Brody’s examination of the Beaver Indians of northeastern British Columbia,³ and James Waldram’s book on the sweeping dislocations accompanying the construction of hydro-electric dams in northern Manitoba⁴ all point to the persistence of Native harvesting practices and values and the clash with non-Native developmental priorities.

    Bishop demonstrates that, although the northern...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 251-318)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-348)
  15. Index
    (pp. 349-356)