In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

346 The Canadian Historical Review Indians at Work: An Informal History of Native Labour in British Columbia , 1858-1930. ROLF KNIGHT. Vancouver: New Star Books 1996. Pp. xiv, 397. $24.00 Rip Van Winkle-like, Rolf Knight's 1978 Indians at Work has reemerged - after nearly two decades - still flogging the unrepentant Robin Fisher, whose own 1977 Contact and Conflict was reissued in 1992, still flogging Rolf Knight. The Knight and Fisher books were exciting, seminal books in the 1970s. Now their debate seems a bit unreal, even quaint. Fisher wrote that, with the gold rush of 1858, 'Vancouver Island and British Columbia were changing from colonies of exploitation, which made use of indigenous manpower, to colonies of settlement where the Indians became at best irrelevant.' It was a forceful statement, capturing one of his themes: that the gold rush irrevocably changed British Columbia. As Knight's book shows, it is one of the few irredeemably wrong sentences in Fisher's Macdonald Prize-winning book. Knight challenged a belief, more current in the 1970s than it is now, that, with the coming of settlement, Aboriginal people were shuffled off to reserves, where they sat hunting, trapping, or collecting government handouts down to the present day. Knight broke free of the sources that had circumscribed scholarship in this field and found that reminiscences by Aboriginal people were full of references to work. He suggested that Aboriginal labourers may have entered the industrial economy in large numbers and that wage labour might have been an important source of income for them as late as the Great Depression. In the end, however, he was unable to arrive at firm conclusions , at least partly because his sources were not systematically examined. Characterizing his own work as an 'informal study,' he admitted to its preliminary nature: 'It will be evident that much of the data for a complete labour history of Indian people in British Columbia is missing here. The present account raises more questions than it answers.' The present revision is equally 'informal' and is more reorganized than revised. What used to be an appendix, 'Historical Background to Indian Labour,' is now, lightly revised and expanded, chapters 2-5. It has toned down its deliberately anti-academic informality, omitted many of the qualifiers, and dropped the odd references to 'girlfriends' picked up by Native workers on their trips. His main rethinking focuses on the Department of Indian Affairs, which he no longer sees as entirely evil. The asides and expansion add about sixty pages to the Book Reviews 347 original 269-page length. These additions thicken description, but except in the case of a few paragraphs on Native liquor manufacturing, they do not add to its breadth. The revised text makes passing reference to a few ofthe studies that have appeared since the original, and it adds some anecdotes taken from them. In terms of the Fisher-Knight debate, the new literature strongly supports Knight, but the literature around Aboriginal/nonAboriginal relations has moved on since the 1970s and Knight has not. Knight is convinced that Aboriginal workers were just like other workers, and does not ask questions about the role of wage labour in Aboriginal life. 'Informal' also applies to the focus. Ostensibly concerned with Native wage labour, Knight has a fascination with Aboriginal spokesmen and travelling cultural troupes, with lengthy asides on each. Although it is primarily about British Columbia, the book also includes a fifty-page look at Aboriginal labour in the rest of the country. If the BC section is informal, this section is downright casual. Knight has missed important studies (Gonzalez on the Micmac, Waisberg and Holzkamm on northeastern Ontario, for example). In one of the cases where he has acknowledged post-1978 writing - Sarah Carter's work he takes issue with it, though it supports his main contentions. In addition to making the point that Aboriginal people worked for wages, Knight plays up, in both editions, the factthat Aboriginal people were workers with class interests in common with other workers. Whatever part of their cultural heritage they retained (and Knight believes this to be less than most writers believe), their 'racial' identity did not affect their desire or...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 346-347
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.