The Beaver as Ideology: Constructing Images of Inuit and Native Life in Post-World War II Canada
Sangster, Joan, Anthropologica
A 1943 issue of the Beaver (March), sponsored by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) as Canada's "magazine of the North," featured a photograph of an arctic white wedding with fashionable bride, bridesmaid and minister, all framed by ice and snow. This was but one of a number of white arctic brides celebrated in the pages of the Beaver (see Photograph 1), offering a marked contrast to the magazine's images of northern Native and Inuit women, who were more often shown in "traditional" Native dress, engaged in productive and domestic labour, or, by the late 1950s, adjusting to "modern" familial and work roles. These contrasting displays of femininity, juxtaposed by culture and race, are only one example of the Beaver's use of imagery and text to create an ideology of Canadian "northernness" which ostensibly promoted ideals of anthropological discovery, historical pride and cultural tolerance, while simultaneously reinforcing racialized and colonial images of northern Native and Inuit peoples.
The Beaver had long been a deliberate public relations effort on the part of the HBC to align its commercial image with positive interpretations of Canadian nation-building, with Indigenous peoples deliberately integrated into their narrative of Canada's popular history. In the post-World War II period, the magazine circulated in public libraries, schools and to a wider public, operating as an influential National Geographic style publication offering authentic, scientific images of Canadian history and the North. Delineating the Beaver's representations of northern Natives and Inuit can thus expose both the prevailing images of Indigenous peoples of the era and the cultural terrain upon which political decisions concerning the First Nations were justified. Indeed, the cultural and political realms were closely connected for the Beaver's, image and text worked as ideology to legitimize the persistence of internal colonialism in Canada's North and to proscribe economic and social solutions for the inevitable and necessary modernization of Native cultures portrayed as traditional and primitive.
The Beaver served as ideology on two overlapping levels: first, it was a conscious, interested project of meaning making on the part of the HBC, an attempt to create a narrative of nation-building that idealized and rationalized the company's economic history and involvement in the North. As one enthusiastic reader wrote to the editor, "I envy you [the great job] of circulating Canada's history. You sell Canada to Canadians and the world!" (Vogel 1954). Second, the magazine's messages about Indigenous peoples were part of a broader hegemonic ideology of race and culture diffused through civil society, deeply interwoven into prevailing, taken for granted notions of Indigenous life. Ideology, as some materialist scholars persist in suggesting, exists not only as a system of signification, ideas and belief, and thus an active material force in everyday life, but also as a system of power, in this case legitimizing the interests of one powerful social group as opposed to another (Eagleton 1991; Dirlik 2002; Ebert 2002; Jameson 2002).
The Beaver's, rendition of Indigenous life may well have been an anathema to Native and Inuit peoples; my focus, however, is on image and ideology, not the experience, of Indigenous peoples.1 I explore the visual and textual rendering of the Native, crafted for a predominately white middlebrow audience in the "south," focussing on three themes-the expert account, the nostalgic picturesque, and the development narrative. Rather than measuring the ethnographic accuracy of the Beaver, I want to examine the "imaginative spaces" that Indigenous peoples occupied for magazine readers searching out entertainment and education, the "tropes and stories that ordered [Indigenous] existence" in their minds (Lutz and Collins 1993:2; Hervik 1999).
In the textual "contact zone" (Pratt 1992)2 of Native and white displayed in the Beaver, interpretations of Indigenous culture, governance, economic development, familial and gender roles often assumed an ambiguous tone, for the magazine was infused with the cultural relativism characteristic of much post-Boasian anthropology (Dippie 1982), and authors advocated cultural tolerance and co-operation in the development of the North. …