Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890

Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890

Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890

Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 1774-1890

Synopsis

Originally published in 1977, Contact and Conflict has remained an important book, which has inspired numerous scholars to examine further the relationships between the Indians and the Europeans -- fur traders as well as settlers. For this edition, Robin Fisher has written a new introduction in which he surveys the literature since 1977 and comments on any new insights into these relationships. Fisher contends that the fur trade had originally brought minimal cultural change to the Indians. In 1858 it essentially came to an end, and with the beginning of white settlement, there was a fundamental change in the relationship between Indians and Europeans. What had been a reciprocal system between the two civilizations became a pattern of white dominance. He shows that while the Indians had been able to adjust gradually to the changes introduced by the traders in the contact period, they lost control of their culture under the impact of colonization.

Excerpt

When Contact and Conflict was first published in 1977, I scarcely thought that it would still be taken seriously enough to be republished fifteen years later. I did hope that the book would contribute to discussion of the role of Native people in the history of British Columbia, but assumed that my generalizations would soon be superseded by new research and ideas. And yet my argument is still discussed by other scholars and the book is still read by students. If nothing else, Contact and Conflict seems to have assumed some historical value in the development of the writing of Native history in British Columbia. It is partly for these reasons that I have chosen to republish the book without modification.

In Contact and Conflict I developed an argument that was based on the distinction between the fur trade and the settlement frontier. I asserted that the early period of European contact and the fur trade may have been a mixed blessing for the Native people of British Columbia, but was not an unmitigated disaster. The trade itself was a reciprocal relationship in which Native demands had to be met. While the indigenous cultures changed and evolved, change was not new, nor did it run out of control. By contrast, during the period of settlement beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Native cultures came under assault. As the non-Native population became larger and more powerful, Native people had fewer choices and less room to manoeuvre. Cultural disruption was most clearly exemplified in the extent to which the first inhabitants of the province were deprived of their land, but losing land and resources was not the only form of dispossession. Native people played only a minor role in the new settlement economy, some Europeans, such as missionaries and government officials, advocated thoroughgoing programs of acculturation, and little attention was paid to Native protest. I concluded that the process of establishing white domination was complete by the end of the 1880's.

I wrote Contact and Conflict because I believed that the approach and insights of a historian had something to contribute to a field that was then dominated by anthropologists. As a newcomer to the province, I was amazed at how little had been written by historians on the Native people of British Columbia. Contact and Conflict was therefore based on the traditional documentary sources of the historian along with a careful reading of the ethnographic literature. The writing of Native history in Canada has since advanced methodologically and ethnohistorians now use a greater variety of . . .

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