The Beaver as Ideology: Constructing Images of Inuit and Native Life in Post-World War II Canada

By Sangster, Joan | Anthropologica, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Beaver as Ideology: Constructing Images of Inuit and Native Life in Post-World War II Canada


Sangster, Joan, Anthropologica


Abstract: This paper explores the Beaver's use of imagery and text to create an ideology of Canadian "northerness" that promoted ideals of anthropological discovery, historical pride and liberal tolerance for other cultures, while also reinforcing colonial images of Inuit and Native peoples. Although the Beaver was intended as a public relations endeavour by the Hudson's Bay Company, the magazine gained readership from the 1940s to the 1960s as a National Geographic style publication offering authentic images of the North, Canadian history, white exploration and Native peoples, especially those from the West. By uncovering the recurring images of Inuit and Native in the Beaver we can better understand the dominant ideologies concerning race and Indigenous cultures in this time period, and thus view the cultural terrain upon which political and social decisions concerning First Nations peoples were constructed. Three themes-expert accounts, the historical picturesque, development narratives-are utilized here to explore dominant discourses in the magazine.

Keywords: The Beaver, Representations of Indigenous and Inuit Peoples, Canadian History

Résumé : Cet article examine la façon dont les images et le texte du magazine The Beaver ont contribué à la création d'une idéologie de la «nordicité» canadienne. Cette idéologie a promu des idéaux de découvertes anthropologiques, de fierté historique et de tolérance progressiste face aux autres cultures, le tout en renforçant les images coloniales des peuples inuits et amérindiens. S'il est vrai que The Beaver, à l'origine, s'inscrivait dans une campagne de relations publiques au profit de la Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson, il n'en demeure pas moins que ce magazine a élargi son lectorat et s'est hissé, des années 40 aux années 60, au rang d'une publication telle le National Geographic en présentant aux lecteurs des images authentiques du Nord, de l'histoire canadienne, de l'exploration des Blancs et des peuples autochtones, en particulier ceux établis à l'Ouest. En dévoilant la récurrence des images sur les Inuits et les Amérindiens dans le Beaver, nous sommes à même d'appréhender les idéologies dominantes de cette époque sur la race et les cultures autochtones. Il nous est également possible de sonder le terrain culturel d'où ont émergé les décisions sociales et politiques concernant les peuples autochtones. Nous ferons usage de trois thèmes pour explorer les discours dominants du magazine : les récits d'experts, le caractère pittoresque de l'histoire et les énoncés sur le développement.

Mots-Clés: The Beaver, Représentation des peuples amérindiens et inuits, Histoire du Canada

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. …

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