Authentic Indians

Episodes of Encounter from the Late-Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast

Authentic Indians

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 37 b&w photos, 2 illus. Published: July 2005

Author: Paige Raibmon

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Native and Indigenous Studies

In this innovative history, Paige Raibmon examines the political ramifications of ideas about “real Indians.” Focusing on the Northwest Coast in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth, she describes how government officials, missionaries, anthropologists, reformers, settlers, and tourists developed definitions of Indian authenticity based on such binaries as Indian versus White, traditional versus modern, and uncivilized versus civilized. They recognized as authentic only those expressions of “Indianness” that conformed to their limited definitions and reflected their sense of colonial legitimacy and racial superiority. Raibmon shows that Whites and Aboriginals were collaborators—albeit unequal ones—in the politics of authenticity. Non-Aboriginal people employed definitions of Indian culture that limited Aboriginal claims to resources, land, and sovereignty, while Aboriginals utilized those same definitions to access the social, political, and economic means necessary for their survival under colonialism.

Drawing on research in newspapers, magazines, agency and missionary records, memoirs, and diaries, Raibmon combines cultural and labor history. She looks at three historical episodes: the participation of a group of Kwakwaka’wakw from Vancouver in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; the work of migrant Aboriginal laborers in the hop fields of Puget Sound; and the legal efforts of Tlingit artist Rudolph Walton to have his mixed-race step-children admitted to the white public school in Sitka, Alaska. Together these episodes reveal the consequences of outsiders’ attempts to define authentic Aboriginal culture. Raibmon argues that Aboriginal culture is much more than the reproduction of rituals; it also lies in the means by which Aboriginal people generate new and meaningful ways of identifying their place in a changing modern environment.


Authentic Indians is a model of innovative scholarship and deserves a place among the most important recent works on racial representation, indigenous identity, and intercultural relations in North America.” — Andrew H. Fisher, Western Historical Quarterly

Authentic Indians . . . is both based in academically sound research and is interesting to read. It should appeal not only to historians and other scholars with an interest in the Northwest Coast but also to members of the general public who have an interest in Native American history.” — Daniel L. Boxberger, Oregon Historical Quarterly

Authentic Indians intelligently contextualizes a hot-button issue: what, exactly, is an ‘Indian’? . . . The issue of authenticity has long been with us, and it will not be going away anytime soon. Paige Raibmon’s book makes an important contribution to the discussion.” — Brian W. Dippie, BC Studies

Authentic Indians is a masterful work that carefully weaves together a complicated theoretical argument with a lively historical narrative. Raibmon paints a clear picture of cultural and economic power structures that ruled the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast. And, through an innovative reading of a diverse array of primary sources, she finds native voices and tells a story that features indigenous peoples as meaningful historical actors.” — Colleen O’Neill, Labor

Authentic Indians is a very original work of scholarship that combines innovating categories of analysis with well-written prose that is appealing to both scholars and general readers. A very valuable dimension of this book is its comparative framework of different aboriginal peoples within multiple historical arenas. The book is highly relevant to contemporary debates of ethnic identity.” — Erik Hirschmann, Alaska History

Authentic Indians is an imaginative and important book that examines how the idea of authenticity—and related questions of agency, representation, and discourse—affected Native groups of the Northwest Coast of North America around the turn of the twentieth century, and particularly how authenticity amounted to a form of colonialism.” — Daniel Clayton, Pacific Historical Review

“Paige Raibmon has written an engaging assessment of how colonialism, anthropology, and tourism converged to facilitate Aboriginal and white manipulations of ‘authenticity’ along the Northwest coast in the late nineteenth century.” — Lissa Wadewitz, Canadian Journal of History

“Raibmon and the press deserve congratulations for generous use of visual material. Wonderful images bring another dimension to Raibmon’s story.” — Elizabeth Vibert, Labour/Le Travail

“Raibmon argues that indigenous people often resorted to playing against type, or in fact to type, when the opportunity to challenge the assumptions of outsiders presented itself. This is a valuable perspective, and this book makes an important contribution to the literature on encounters between whites and native people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” — Michael E. Harkin, Journal of American History

“Raibmon probes this multifaceted scene with careful attention to detail that provides depth. . . .What comes across clearly is her point that problems can have a life of their own, which in some cases can be long.” — Olive Patricia Dickason, International History Review

“Raibmon’s analysis of colonialism, ethnicity, and modernity in the Pacific Northwest region accomplishes what few, if any, books accomplish. It brings together the best work in ethnohistory, Native studies, and Indian history, yet it employs the ideas and arguments of postcolonialism and subaltern studies with unparalleled success. This book will appeal to the aforementioned fields and should become popular in graduate courses across the United States and Canada. But beyond this, Raibmon has managed to write an intellectually stimulating book that is also a wonderful story filled with engaging characters set against a backdrop of empire and resistance in a complex region of the world.” — Jeffrey P. Shepherd, Studies in American Indian Literatures

“The book’s great strength is its close attention to nuance. . . . The book is also noteworthy for its cross-border focus. . . . [H]opefully this highly original and authoritative study will encourage others to explore authenticity as a factor in native-newcomer relations elsewhere in the North American West.” — Forrest D. Pass, Journal of the West

“This highly readable book contributes to a critical discourse that challenges these persistent and powerful social constructions.” — Briam Thom, American Indian Culture and Research Journal

“This provocative book is well researched and beautifully written. Highly recommended.” — L. De Danaan, Choice

“Throughout Authentic Indians, Raibmon convincingly shows that, from the colonial era onward, whites tended to place a barrier between themselves and the Indians. . . . [A] valuable resource to those interested in indigenous people, heritage, and the impacts of tourism.” — Rajinder S. Jutla, Tourism Geographies

“With Raibmon’s work authenticity joins tradition, the imaginary, academic models, and the practice of selective visibility, among others, as recognized devices deployed in the imposition of the mainstream’s views on Aboriginal peoples.” — Bruce Granville Miller, American Historical Review

‘[A] remarkable study. . . . Raibmon uncovers surprising forms of indigenous agency, power, and determination. Indeed, her ability to simultaneously analyze the deployment of colonial discourses with their reception and utilization by Native groups offers a comparative model for other colonial encounters.” — Ned Blackhawk, American Quarterly

"A serious book that raises provocative questions. . . . Much more interesting than the easy Thanksgiving fables we once embraced as fact." — Barbara McMichael, The Olympian, Kitsap Sun

"Other scholars have broached several of the topics Raibmon's book engages. . . . However, no one has ever before analyzed them so effectively in a single work and considered how these elements interacted with one another. Authentic Indians is a thought-provoking, original study well deserving attention from readers interested in understanding how colonialism served to shape images of Native peoples (many of which remain with us today) and the responses Northwest Coast peoples created to reject, ignore, or appropriate these depictions." — Susan Neylan, H-Canada, H-Net Reviews

"Other scholars have broached several of the topics Raibmon's book engages. . . . However, no one has ever before analyzed them so effectively in a single work and considered how these elements interacted with one another. Authentic Indians is a thought-provoking, original study well deserving attention from readers interested in understanding how colonialism served to shape images of Native peoples (many of which remain with us today) and the responses Northwest Coast peoples created to reject, ignore, or appropriate these depictions." — Susan Neylan H-Canada H-Net Reviews

“There are not enough superlatives in a thesaurus to convey my enthusiasm for this book. It is insightful, original, intelligent, thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and more. Paige Raibmon is the first scholar working in Native history to dissect and articulate the connections between assimilationist government policies, the rise of North American anthropology, and tourism, all of which—Raibmon argues with great success—served as agents of colonialism.” — Nancy Shoemaker, author of A Strange Likeness: Becoming Red and White in Eighteenth-Century North America

“There is nothing in the existing historical literature that accomplishes what this book does. It vividly depicts the interplay of ideas, strategies, and practical considerations during a period that has had significant and long-lasting impacts on everyone’s ideas about ‘Indianness.’ Admirably, Paige Raibmon insists that we consider non-Indians’ ideas in relationship to Indians’ ideas and strategies, something few existing works do.” — Alexandra Harmon, author of Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paige Raibmon is Assistant Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Authenticity and Colonial Cosmology 1

1. Local Politics and Colonial Relations: The Kwakwaka'wakw at Home on the Northwest Coast 15

2. "The March of the Aborigine to Civilization": Live Exhibits and the World's Columbian Exhibition, 1893 34

3. Theaters of Contact: The Kwakwaka'wakh at the Fair 50

4. Picking, Posing, and Performing: Puget Sound Hop Fields and Income for Aboriginal Workers 74

5. Harvest Gatherings: Aboriginal Agendas, Economy, and Culture 98

6. Indian Watchers: Colonial Imagination and Colonial Reality 116

7. The Inside Passage to Authenticity: Sitka Tourism and the Tlingit 135

8. "The Trend is Upward": Mission and Cottage Life 157

9. Civilization on Trial: The Davis Case 175

Conclusion: Authenticity's Call 198

List of Abbreviations 209

Notes 211

Bibliography 261

Index 295

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3547-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3535-1
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