Fluid Authenticity: An Examination Of The Historiography Of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples, 1965 – 2005

1921 words - 8 pages

How can you write about a culture whose history is passed on by oral traditions? Better yet, how can you comprehend a culture’s past which a dominant society desired to assimilate? These two questions outline the difficulty in understanding the historiography of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. In 2003, Paige Raibmon published her article, “Living on Display: Colonial Visions of Aboriginal Domestic Spaces.” Her work, although focused on Canada’s colonial “notions of domesticity,” presents the role of Aboriginals as performers to European notions of indigenous culture and identity. Early social historians believe that Aboriginals’ place in history is in their interactions with European Jesuits. A decade later, historians argue Aboriginals exemplify a subordinate culture fighting against assimilating and hegemonic forces. More recently, social historical perspective shows Aboriginals as performers of the white-man’s constructed “authentic-Indian.” Obviously, there is disparity between historians’ viewpoints but each decade’s published histories concur with James Opp and John Walsh’s concept of local resistance. Using Raibmon’s paper as a starting point, a chronological examination of select histories reveals an evolving social historiography surrounding historians’ perceptions of Aboriginals’ local resistance attempts.
Before a select historiographical study on historians’ approaches to Aboriginals’ historical role can be addressed, the views and evidence presented by Raibmon require contextual examination. Raibmon maintains that to satisfy European colonizers’ perceptions of the Aboriginal, pressure from 19th century colonial missionaries, government, tourists, and anthropologists resulted in the creation of exhibits of Aboriginals’ domestic spaces. She expands her point, saying, “[w]hile the forces of colonial society urged Aboriginal people to adopt bourgeois values of privacy and domesticity,” these same forces constructed “Aboriginal homes and private spaces into public spectacles.” Raibmon interprets this colonial tampering in Aboriginal domesticity, as leaving an ironically contradictory perception of Aboriginals. She makes it clear that this resulting ambiguous concept is a purely colonial assumption. She outlines that Aboriginals’ connected domestic space and self through “the idea that form can change without foreclosing continuity.” As well, Raibmon articulates that not all Aboriginals were resistant to exploitation as colonial spectacle and entertainment. In fact, multiple Aboriginals commercially advanced themselves by selling ‘authentic’ souvenirs and “[v]oluntarily submitting to living on display.” By incorporating this non-elite perspective, Raibmon demonstrates an understanding of Aboriginals’ local resistance.
In comparison to Raibmon’s work, examining the articles by historians Bruce Trigger, Morris Zaslow and James Ronda – respectively published in 1965, 1966, and 1972 – underscores a shift in historians’ attitudes...

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