Nineteenth Century Indigenous Prophets in the Northwest and the Elusive Space of Contact

Zach McCann-Armitage


This paper is about the so-called "prophet dance movement" that emerged out of Indigenous communities in the Columbia River Plateau in the Nineteenth century. The paper argues that though the movement was distinctly rooted within oral Indigenous traditions, its gradual appropriation of Christian images into its practices situates it as a unique cultural encounter between Europeans and Indigenous peoples. Proposed is that the movement, as an unsystematic, unmediated manifestation of cultural exchange, defies easy classification and instead exists in a space of necessary ambiguity between cultures. Also examined is the way that the demographic and cultural effects of upheavals, specifically epidemic diseases, may be linked to the adopted popularity of the movement. Ultimately, the author suggests that the distinctive situation of the prophet dance movement could represent an alternative to the way that conventional historical narratives are constructed conceptualized, specifically in the context of British Columbian history.

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