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215 9 Anthropological Activism and Boas’s Pacific Northwest Ethnology DAVID W. DINWOODIE The dominant foci for anthropological activism by and on behalf of peoples of Aboriginal descent in North America today are land claims, repatriation , and language preservation and revival. Activism in these areas is predicated on the idea that enhanced status and improved living conditions follow from achieving political “recognition” (of Aboriginal title and rights, of culturally based property, and Indigenous languages). The level and intensity of anthropological activism has been considerable, and successes in gaining recognition have been tangible, though it is important to acknowledge that they have not been sweeping. Collective recognition and the coalitions leading up to it have consolidated Aboriginal middle classes for the groups in question. Availed of the opportunities presented to members of the middle classes generally, members of these Aboriginal middle classes have excelled in ways that have confirmed the validity of the principle of meliorism and belied racist preconceptions . Collective recognition, however, has not necessarily improved the lot of the poorer members of Aboriginal groups: for them it has not necessarily resulted in greater acceptance into mainstream society, nor to improved access to the most dynamic sectors of the economy, nor to improved political access. The demand for “recognition,” as Charles Taylor terms it, comes to the fore in a number of ways in today’s politics on behalf of minority or “subaltern” groups.”1 By a demand for recognition, Taylor means that politics on behalf of minority or “subaltern” groups shifts from fighting discrimination to demanding that people be recognized for their differences . The rationale is that ostensibly neutral but biased-in-fact workings of liberalism, such as requiring subaltern groups to exercise legal and political rights only in the language of dominant groups, not only puts them at a tactical disadvantage but can also damage their sense of selfworth . Being politically acknowledged, and being in the process recognized for what distinguishes them as minorities, the thinking goes, not only includes people but enhances the authentic basis of their self-worth.2 216 DINWOODIE Franz Boas’s anthropology and activism centered not on “recognition,” however, but on what K. Anthony Appiah calls “the great liberal struggle . . . to get the state to treat its members as individuals only, without favoring or disfavoring particular ethnic or religious or gender identities .”3 In George W. Stocking’s words, “Equality of opportunity, education , political and intellectual liberty, the rejection of dogma and the search for scientific truth, and identification with humanity and devotion to its progress are all part of a single outlook—a single left-liberal posture which, as in the case of Rudolph Virchow, is at once scientific and political.”4 Boas’s ethnology, including his and his colleagues’ research on the Tsilhqut’in,5 was meant to show the historical interdependence and essential unity of all of humanity. In his ethnology his effort was to show that past patterns of behavior that appeared to us to be abnormal or markedly inferior were neither isolated nor intrinsically chaotic nor primitive but were often widely shared elements of behavior, predicated on the same types of social and psychological categories as our own. The approach he used was designed to challenge scientific racism and the latent racism of social evolutionary thought; it was not oriented to illuminate the modern historical processes by which such contemporary identities as ethnicity and nationality develop. While Boas was certainly aware that ethnic and national identity posed special analytic challenges for anthropology, he made no attempt to systematically address the historical circumstances and institutional factors widely recognized to contribute to them, whether colonial territorialization, missionization , literacy, print capitalism, public education, changes in way of life, or what have you.6 And yet the Aboriginal ethnicities and ethnic nationalities of today (First Nations in Canada and the many subgroupings identifying as First Nations) have histories in colonial contact that extend back beyond anthropology’s entry into the Pacific Northwest. For the Tsilhqut’in of what is now west-central British Columbia, a hinterland of the greater Pacific Northwest, the maritime fur trade arrived in the late eighteenth century.7 For interior peoples like the Tsilhqut’in the main effect of the coastal trade was to intensify the flow of goods and people, expanding the scope of social-relational and material-relational possibilities. With the implementation of the interior trade in the Fraser and Columbia corridors from 1808 to 1846, however, system of posts and communications were established, and such...


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