Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tsimshian and the Effects of European Contact

Contact with the Europeans was based on the Tsimshian participation in the fur trade. Their first contact was with Russian fur traders but they were soon acquainted with American and British traders. The effects of the fur trade were initially positive. Tsimshian hunters could use their advanced skill to find top quality furs and trade them for foreign goods like knives, cloth and paint. During the contact period Tsimshian art and hunting methods changed slightly with the introduction of new tools and technologies. As the fur trade boom exploded the Tsimshian settled closer to the coast to enable easier and faster exchanges. Intermarriage occurred between traders and native women.

Unfortunately after continued contact with the European's smallpox spread and killed thousands of Tsimshian. Intermarriage began to affect the traditional practices of Tsimshian and cultural assimilation undermined their rich lifestyles. Less art was produced during the post-contact time and the occurrence of ceremonies fell drastically. The European contact had adverse effects on the Tsimshian culture in the long run. The solidarity and persistence of their traditions fell off and they adopted a more European way of life. Only in recent years have the Tsimshian people reclaimed their lost culture and tradition.

We need to realize that the European contact changed the way of life for the Tsimshian people forever. They lost the elements that make their culture unique and the European influence negatively impacted their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The pollution and settlement that followed changed the quality and quantity of seafood and wildlife and the government needs to realize this is a real problem. The Tsimshian people's culture and lifestyle should not be infringed upon by modernity. They deserve the dignity of having their homeland preserved. We are now seeing a resurgence in the amount of Tsimshian art and new generations are feeling a closer attachment to their past. The government should review the damages the Tsimshian people have weathered-particularly the smallpox epidemic- and should compensate them for it. The compensation could contribute to cultural revitalization programs and educational services.

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