​Where the Rivers Meet (WTRM) Website

Department of Anthropology
Kwantlen Polytechnic University

Summer 2017

Assignment #1. Short Essay on Ways of Believing
Colonization and Religion

Due Tuesday, June 13 (12.5%)

For this assignment you will write a 4-5 page essay on Robinson’s Mi’kmaw ethnography.  Although your essay may focus on particular chapters or sections of the ethnography, it should reflect your reading of the whole book.  (Don’t overlook the Glossary at the end of the book (Pp. 141-144).)

Discuss the relationship between colonization and religion.

How did the Mi’kmaq of Eskasoni respond - over four centuries - to Catholicism, the Catholic Church, and to governments of the settler-colonial society?

The Glossary from Racism, Colonialism and Indigeneity in Canada (Canon and Sunseri, eds.) is posted on Moodle.  You will find there definitions of the following terms: assimilation, colonization, cultural revitalization, decolonization, dispossession, Eurocentrism, resurgence, self-determination, silenced history, systemic racism, [white] settler society (settler-colonial society).  In addition to colonization, use at least one other term from the glossary to deepen your analysis.  Please put the term you have used at the top of page 1 of your essay.

NB. I encourage you to use other course readings as sources for this essay, where they would contribute to your discussion or strengthen your argument.  You are not required to do additional research for this assignment, but if you would like to do some, make sure you use peer-reviewed academic sources or First Nations’ perspectives presented in credible sources and that you include them in your list of References at the end of your essay.

EVALUATION:  The criteria used to evaluate your theoretical essay will be:

  • Have you understood the question your essay answers?
  • Have you understood the analytical concepts from the glossary and applied them in your discussion of the ethnography?
  • Is your essay clearly written?  Have you expressed your ideas clearly with careful attention to sentence structure and punctuation?
  • Are your ideas organized into well-structured paragraphs?
  • Is your argument clear, thoughtful, and well organized?
  • Have you made good use of evidence from the ethnography to support and develop your argument?
  • Have you demonstrated critical thinking, rather than just describing?
  • Have you referenced your essay correctly?  Are your in-text citations, quotations, and List of References correctly formatted using either Chicago or APA style?
  • Have you followed the instructions for formatting your essay?
  • Have you edited and proofread your essay for sentence structure and length, paragraph structure and length, spelling, grammar, and formatting?

FORMAT: Your essay should be typed, double-spaced with pages numbered. Page 1 is the first page of your text, not the title page (if you have one).  Font size should be 12 point.  Left, right, top and bottom margins should be 1 inch (2.5 cm).  Do not right justify.  Paragraphs should be indented, not separated by a double space and no paragraph should be longer than ¾ page. 

REFERENCING and AVOIDING PLAGARISM: Your assignment must be properly referenced.  Any paraphrase or direct quotation from the work of any other author(s) must be indicated as such in your report; if you do not you risk being accused of plagiarism.  See Course Outline and Kwantlen Policy ST2 Student Academic Integrity for definitions and penalties:  

Any time you use five or more words by another author, you must use quotation marks and an in-text citation.  Points made on a particular page of another text should also be followed by an in-text citation. 

For this assignment, you can use the abbreviated version of the in-text citation - (p. 32) – when referencing the ethnography you are writing about.  Any other sources you might decide to use, need full in-text citations -  (Kottak 2012: 32).  A list of References Cited should appear at the end of your report.

You may use Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago) or APA (American Psychological Association) style.  Guides to using both styles are available at the Library, both online and in the racks near the Learning Centre.






Assignment # 1
Short Essay on Ways of Believing:  Colonization and Religion
Bruce Ferguson 100315309

Discuss the relationship between colonization and religion.  How did the Mikmaq of Eskasoni respond – over four centuries – to Caholicism, the Catholic Church and to governments of the settler-colonial society?

New Word – The word that I chose to use in addition to colonization is the word “Indigenous Knowledge”.  The reason that I chose this word is that it underlines my thinking about how to understand the idea that the Mi’kmah (and other Indigenous communities) can be both Catholic and Traditional, ideas therein are reconcilable.

Indigenous Knowledge includes systems of thought, ways of being, ways of knowing and ways of thinking that are held and developed by indigenous nations and peoples.  There is not one indigenous knowledge system, but often, indigenous systems of knowledge hold key similarities rooted in philosophical ideas and understandings about humanity and the world. “  *(Glossary definition)

Reflective Essay

In this reflective essay, I put my point forward that it is within the framework of indigenous knowledge that we need to use to think about Mi’kmah engagement with colonialism via the Catholic Church. I think that it is important to refer to the nature of experiential knowledge that the Mi’kmaq possessed as a starting point in this reflective essay. 

The Mi’kmaq, like many other First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities, have shown to be a people who have and continue to survive through adaptation, reinvention and application of new realities.  My sense is that this flexibility is rooted in a world view that stresses the importance of metaphysical diversity through such social constructs as “trickster”, “contraries”, two-spirited” etc. within stories (legends).  Twinned to the above idea is the conceptualization of the place of the human species within creation.  Native people are taught and live the notion of inter-connectedness, that we are the youngest of creation (Basil, 1976)[1] and must rely on the wisdom of the animal, plant and physical world to teach us.  In a world where we are to learn from nature and when nature itself is diverse, can act in a trickster like way, we learn to explain our own existence in those terms.  The lens which I think clarifies how the Mi’kmaq embraced and incorporated the Catholic Faith into the culture is founded upon this metaphysical flexibility and the ontological commitments of being open to a journey of learning that is collective and drawn from a rich base of external sources to the Mi’kmaq rather than a constructed and perhaps controlling reality as in the western tradition.

Angela Robinson[2] in her ethnographic work with the Mi’kmaq in Cape Breton identifies three schools of thought in regard to the relationship with Catholicism; they included the traditional Mi’kmaq, “traditional” Catholics and Catholics.  All three schools are part of the Mi’kmaq conversation and struggle to reconcile the collective journey of the people towards and understanding of reality.

The Mi'kmaw sense of Catholicism is both vernacular and popular.  It is vernacular in the sense that orthodox Mi'kmah Catholics follow the teachings, practices and rituals of the church as a guide to living.  Yet, it is also a popular faith too because the neo-traditionalist Catholic community uses the faith as an expression of the Mi'kmah variation of the Catholic religion, but the meanings of the rituals are reorganized to reflect cultural and social realities of the times.

What is interesting about the development of Mi'kmaw Catholicism is the historical circumstances involved.  There is a nation to nation relationship with the Vatican as evidenced by the Vatican wampum belt which provides talking points to the 1610 Concordat.  The local missionaries appointed Mi'kmaq people to take responsibility for religions matters as there were no priests.  As a result the evolution of Catholicism can be said to have been indigenized by the Mi'kmaw.

Another benefit brought by the Catholic experience was the development of a writing system in hieroglyphs.  The hieroglyphs reflected Mi'kmaw text as well as Catholic texts like the bible and other religious readings.  These books were considered sacred by the Mi'kmaw and were important in terms of cultural, religious and historical purposes.  

So, given the historical circumstances and the development of a written language, the Catholic Church can be considered Mi'kmaw tradition because the writings that became available through this Catholic initiative (prayer books, religious readings, etc.) that shared Catholic and Mi'kmah beliefs held in common and as a result these writings were seen to be sacred and valuable to the preservation of Mi'kmah realities. 

In concluding then, the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Mi'kmah people cannot be said to be good or bad.  A good analogy I think is the checkerboard squares.  As an example, language was preserved by the Catholic Church in many ways given the recording of words via the hieroglyphic format. Yet, 200 years later, the Catholic Church also tried (in complicity with colonial governments) to destroy the language.  Another gift of the church was the recorded history in such sources as the Jesuit Relations; while the Relations were biased, they provided enough material that could be cross-checked with oral traditions to better ground our remembering of the past and therefore our world view as indigenous peoples.  The Mi'kmah experience with the Catholic Church tells all of us that we can be both indigenous and Catholic, there is no separation of our internal selves.  We remain ourselves and continue to incorporate new realities, all possible though our metaphysical outlooks and ontological commitment to change and adaptation; we may express ourselves different, but we are not any less our indigenous selves at the end of the day.

Ojibway heritage, Johnston, Basil.  McClelland and Stewart,  [1976], ©1976.

[2] Robinson, Angela.   Ta'n teli-ktlamsitasit (ways of believing) : Mi'kmaw religion in Eskasoni, Nova Scotia, Pearson Education Canada, [2005], ©2005