This essay examines Marius Barbeau’s early-twentieth-century Huron-Wyandot ethnography as a case study in the history of Canadian anthropology and in Canadian cultural history. It examines how Barbeau’s ethnographic research became part of a broader, inherently political process, through which an Amerindian identity was remade as part of the ethnographic project. Barbeau, a noted Canadian anthropologist, studied and collected Huron-Wyandot culture from 1911 until 1914. Working within the salvage paradigm, he rejected the idea that historic-era cultural adaptions could constitute part of an “authentic” Huron-Wyandot culture. For Barbeau cultural adaptations or developments signified only cultural decay. By representing Huron-Wyandot culture in this fashion, Barbeau not only challenged Huron and Wyandot conceptions of their culture but created a standard of cultural authenticity to which the existing Huron and Wyandot cultures could not conform. This led Barbeau to conclude that the Huron had been assimilated into white society: the Huron nation, in effect, no longer existed. The Canadian state readily agreed with this conclusion, using Barbeau’s research to bolster its own plan to disestablish a Huron reserve and forcibly enfranchise its population, thereby unilaterally abolishing their Amerindian status. Barbeau’s Huron-Wyandot ethnography illustrates, this essay concludes, how anthropology became a point of intercultural contact and conflict and a component of aboriginal-white relations in Canada in the first decades of the twentieth century.


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pp. 433-472
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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