In an incisive and wide-ranging critique of ethnohistory and historical anthropology, Michael E. Harkin develops an innovative approach to understanding the profound cultural changes experienced during the past century by the Heiltsuks (Bella Bella), a Northwest Coast Indian group. Between 1880 and 1920, the Heiltsuks changed from one of the most traditional and aggressive groups on the Northwest Coast to paragons of Victorian virtues. Why and how did this dramatic transformation occur? Harkin answers these questions by tracing the changing views the Heiltsuks had of themselves and of their past as they encountered colonial powers.
Rejecting many of the common methods and assumptions of ethnohistorians as unwittingly Eurocentric or simplistic, Harkin argues that the multiple perspectives, motives, and events constituting the Heiltsuks’ world and history can be productively conceived of as dialogues, ongoing series of culturally embedded communicative acts that presuppose previous acts and constrain future ones. Historical transformations in three of these dialogues, centering on the body, material goods, and concepts of the soul, are examined in detail.
Michael E. Harkin is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming and the author of a forthcoming study of Northwest Coast Indians.