- Prophetic Identities: Indigenous Missionaries on British Colonial Frontiers, 1850–75 by Tolly Bradford
Contemporary indigeneity is often cast in sharp contrast to the ongoing legacies of colonialism or Western culture itself. Indeed, Indigenous resistance to or victimization by these forces is a central characteristic in the term’s definition. Yet history provides alternative examples. What can we make of Indigenous missionaries who operated within imperial frameworks but were also responsible for the infrastructure of empire in local settings (mission posts, agricultural villages, schools)? This book is an analysis of the impacts of the conversion and commitment to Christianity by two nineteenth-century Indigenous men, Henry Budd (1812–75), a Cree in Western British North America, and Tiyo Soga (1829–71), a Xhosa man from southern Africa.
In comparative work at its best, Bradford argues that these two, admittedly exceptional Indigenous missionaries created for themselves “new” Indigenous identities. What makes this study noteworthy is its framing of these men within empire and the processes of modernity, which moves us beyond the well-trodden scholarly terrain of hybridity, colonized minds, or periphery-versus-metropole models. Bradford is steadfast in his view that neither Budd nor Soga should be viewed as a parochial figure. Rather, they offer prime examples of how individuals embraced a “modern indigeneity.” Drawing primarily on the two missionaries’ own writing, Bradford demonstrates their active participation in the expression of a Christianized global consciousness, while also giving credence to the power of Indigenous identification, particularly with cultural heritage, language, and connections to the land.
The first section of Prophetic Identities explores the two men’s journeys to ordination. Colonial agents, missionaries, and external forces informed the opportunities available, but, in Bradford’s estimation, they were not the primary factors behind Budd’s and Soga’s attraction to modernism and Christianity. Rather, personal decisions and the influence of their families, especially their mothers, shaped their paths. Budd (Sakachuwescum) was born to Cree parents with familial ties to the Hudson’s Bay Company. At the age of eight his mother sent him to the Church Missionary Society–sponsored school for Aboriginal children in the Red River Colony. This marked the beginning of his long association with the Society. In 1850, he was the first person of Aboriginal descent in British North America to be ordained. Budd, accompanied [End Page 113] by his metis wife and children, served the peoples at The Pas and Nipowewin along the Saskatchewan River.
Soga’s connections to a career in mission work also originated with his family. Soga’s parents had been heavily influenced by the Xhosa prophet Ntsikana, who had emphasized Christianity and agriculture as key to peaceful Indigenous-British co-existence. Soga’s father led a group of Xhosa Christians to relocate near to the London Missionary Society’s Tyhume mission station in order to escape the escalating frontier violence, and it was there Soga was born. As with Budd, it was Soga’s mother who encouraged her son to pursue Western educational opportunities at Tyhume and beyond. Soga attended the Love-dale seminary in the Eastern Cape and then travelled to Scotland for further training as a teacher. In 1856 he was ordained in the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland and returned to southern Africa the following year with a Scottish wife, to take up his life’s work as a missionary.
The heart of the book encompasses chapters devoted to both men’s emergence from liminal positions “in-between” the Indigenous and imperial worlds to places of authority and leadership within both worlds. These chapters are the strongest of the book, highlighting the commonalities between Budd’s and Soga’s experiences within the shared framework of empire. Prophetic Identities’ final chapters explore the men’s legacies – directly, in the many children they raised as Indigenous Christians, but also in the broader sense, through the “modern” communities they fostered for their peoples, and for Soga, through a nascent political voice for an emergent African nationalism.
Historiographically, Soga is the better known. Therefore, not surprisingly, Bradford...