Pre-Anthropologists and Colonization

Anthropology as a science grew out of needs of colonizing countries to gain more information about the frontier. The United States in the early 19th century needed to have more information about the North American frontier for the purpose of claiming and colonizing the area for the expansion of the nation. The earliest beginnings of Anthropology, collections of the oddities of natural history, the gathering of native languages and unique material cultural artifacts, was part of the colonization of the world by European powers as well. The impetus of exploration, of finding new lands, new animals and plants, new things in the natural and cultural worlds really is part and parcel of colonization. Discovery, of new lands, new peoples, new resources, is not a benign activity, but always is in the service of some world colonizing power.

Naturalists, collectors of the natural world, perhaps in part the precursor to archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, really grew from the examples set by early explorers, of finding new and interesting things to name, claim, and collect.  Conservationists, like Theodore Roosevelt, is a branch of naturalism, the desire to collect as many mounted carcasses of unique animals as a hunter can collect. These statement will not be surprising to most scientists, and there has now grown a tradition recognizing these things for what they are. Native peoples especially have been on the forefront of identifying aspects of science that are colonial and colonizing influences on the cultures, societies and peoples. Perhaps the best academic work to document the compliance of Anthropology with Colonization is that of Maori scholar Linda Tuhiwi Smith, her book Decolonizing Anthropology, is a necessary read for any social scientist.

Many of the early explorers who began forms of early anthropology or pre-anthropologists, are heroes to the contemporary peoples and culture they helped spawn. They tended to conduct themselves heroically to help the nations they are a part of to become large and better. Many of these pre-anthropologists were truly interested in the new world around them. Still, their actions led to such destruction of native peoples that some may never recover. The following are some of the most prevalent for the Oregon territory.

Lewis and Clark and their “Corps of Discovery,” as it has been termed, was a military expedition to find the route to the Pacific, a part of the search for the vaunted Northwest passage. But their goals went far beyond just this discovery, to documenting the peoples and wealth of the region, so that the American President, their boss, Thomas Jefferson, could make an informed decisions to expand the burgeoning new nation to the furthest western border of the continent. This impetus was not about discovery at all, but about expanding and extending the United States political, military, and economic influence to the Pacific Coast. This expansionism is a necessary action to grow the nation and reach the markets of of Asia, as well as keep other colonizers from claiming the region.

The Corps then collected all manner of intelligence about the regions they encountered, drew maps, estimated tribal population counts, and documented resources, frontier wealth opportunities. Most of their baseline data is and has been the foundational data in innumerable anthropological and historical studies of native peoples. In fact, their collections predate the foundation of Anthropology as a science,  and so their studies are similar to early ethnographic studies of tribes. This may not be a surprise to most people, because Thomas Jefferson himself is thought to have begun the American anthropological traditions by conducting his own studies of Native societies, languages, and even archaeology by investigating  Indian mounds. Thomas Jefferson gave orders directly to the expeditionary leaders Lewis and Clark.

“Portland Area” tribal villages on the Columbia River 1805-1806 , Lewis and Clark maps, documenting extensive villages and populations of the Chinook peoples, as well as natural resources of the surrounding hills and forests. Bieneke Digital collections

These exploratory studies become part of the colonizing project of the United States of the frontier areas. A succession of explorers to the Oregon territory increased the available information about the tribes of the region, and the wealth of the region. Information is also gathered from American settlers and agents in Oregon who form a provisional government in support of the US claim to what is to become  the Oregon Territory and later the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The settlers initiate a constant stream of correspondence with their friends and political leaders in Congress. This information, in the form of journals, reports, and correspondence are sent to Congress and to the American presidents to use to make decisions about whether they will take the Oregon Territory, and how much they need to claim from the British, who they held a joint claim since 1818. U.S. military officer William Slacum’s trip to the Oregon Territory (1837), is seen by many as the actions of a U.S. spy, aids the United States  by connecting with the American settlers, having meetings with them, and helping them to gain greater economic power in Oregon through the cattle they drive to Oregon from Sacramento. Slacum’s reports and maps help the federal government to gain additional leverage against the British claims. Slacum also documents many of his interactions with tribes and become another source of ethnographic information to anthropologists.

Map created from Slacum’s Information

Charles Wilkes commanded the  military survey of the Oregon region in 1841 and added greatly to the overall knowledge of the region, including detailed surveys of the best ports and waterways, key information to take possession of the region. Horatio Hale, an ethnographer and  philologist on the expedition, is the “anthropologist” whose book in 1846 (United States Exploring Expedition Volume 6), documents the cultures of the tribes from the Pacific and the continent. He documents many languages and tribal territories, much of which are captured on the Wilkes expeditionary map of the region. The map attempts to assign tribal territories, and as such become the foundational map of tribal territories that is accessed by generations of anthropologists thereafter. The map is a colonial vision of tribal territory, really based on poorly collected information about the tribes

Section of the Wilkes Map found in Horatio Hale’s Ethnography and Philology (1846 (1968 reprint), 196-197) showing tribal territories as suggested by Hale from his visit to Oregon in 1841. (This took a few days to find, the original from 1846 appears to have color boundaries, but I have not found that map in any digital format available, and there are no readily available first edition volumes. This scan is from the 1968 reprint of the book.)

Hale did not spend much time with tribal people, certainly not with the Molalla. Much of his information he got from fur traders working for Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. The value of this information then is questionable. However, his map a very short description of the Molalla from the book Ethnography and Philology (1846) becomes the standard which is then referenced to the present. The Molalla portion if the map shows a clear bias towards the theory that the Cayuse split in the recent past and their western branch became the Molalla. In addition, the Molalla territory is show to be a small piece of the Willamette Valley, the whole of the Cascades, and a good portion of the Deschutes Basin. The full extent of this claim is staggering, especially when we note that the claim extends from a very arid desert environment, into the high Cascades, and then into the lush Willamette Valley, an environmental diversity not matched by many tribes anywhere. most tribes are bounded by their adaptation to a specific environment, a river valley, or along an extensive riverine system like the Chinookan tribes of the Columbia. The association of the Molalla with the Cayuse is based on a tribal story, but there remains not much other evidence of the truth of the tribal split.

The extent of Hale’s  ethnographic description of the Molalla,

“The residence of the Molele is (or was) in the broken and wooded country about Mounts Hood and Vancouver, They were never very numerous, and have suffered much of late from various diseases, particularly the ague-fever [malaria]. in 1841 they numbered but twenty individuals; several deaths took place while we were in the country, and the tribe is probably, at present, nearly or quite extinct.” (214).

In the philology section, Hale writes of the Molele language that it was collected from a single individual and therefore may have errors (561). It may be that this single individual is the only informant Hale had for the Molele/Molalla and his description suggests it was collected by someone else. The vocabulary is letter “P” in the vocabulary list (570-).


When anthropologists and Linguists adhere to these early assumptions about tribal migration and territory, based on little or no evidence, then it is a problem. Each generation of scientists needs to critically reevaluate the theories of the past to determine whether they are still valid. This really become an issue when tribal peoples, those who have been heavily colonized and have found the political space to recover as a tribal government, simply accept the erroneous assumptions of the past. They then become colonized and colonizing regarding the former tribal territories of the tribe. Newly restored tribal governments really need to be heavily critical of the assumptions of those who worked on behalf of the United States federal government to determine “why” such decisions were made, “who” made them, and “for what purpose”. Besides the fact that many early anthropologists really did not known much about the tribes, many early research methods were biased and inexact.

In addition, most early scientists did not access native perspectives, and so tribal culture and knowledge is then a new perspective that can add significant depth of understanding to the original fieldwork of many past projects. Reanalysis in a critical perspective, as well as adding new ideas, no theories from people with new or traditional perspectives can yield new understandings about the tribal cultures of the the past.

This is far from a definitive study. I encourage others to take this short investigation and expand it. The more we identify the problem areas of the science the more useful it will be to us to solve future problems.

The bibliography, or part of that I used for my PhD studies contains many critical studies of anthropology.

Althusser, L. and E. Balibar. Reading ‘Capital’. London, NLB, 1977.

Bieder, R. E. Science encounters the Indian, 1820-1880 : the early years of American ethnology. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.

Biolsi, T. and L. J. Zimmerman. Indians and anthropologists : Vine Deloria, Jr., and the critique of anthropology. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Biolsi, T. and L. J. Zimmerman. Indians and anthropologists : Vine Deloria, Jr., and the critique of anthropology. Tucson, University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Blaut, J. M. The colonizer’s model of the world : geographical diffusionism and Eurocentric history. New York, Guilford Press, 1993.

Churchill, W. Struggle for the land : indigenous resistance to genocide, ecocide, and expropriation in contemporary North America. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1993.

Churchill, W. Indians are us? : culture and genocide in native North America. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1994.

Churchill, W. From a native son : selected essays in indigenism, 1985-1995. Boston, Mass., South End Press, 1996.

Churchill, W. A little matter of genocide : holocaust and denial in the Americas, 1492 to the present. Winnipeg, Arbeiter Ring Pub., 1998.

Churchill, W. and M. A. Jaimes. Fantasies of the master race : literature, cinema and the colonization of American Indians. Monroe, Me., Common Courage Press, 1992.

Clayton, D. W. Islands of Truth: The Imperial Fashioning of Vancouver Island. Vancouver, UBC Press, 2000.

Clifford, J. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature and Art. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1988.

Cornell, S. E. The return of the native : American Indian political resurgence. New York, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Cornell, S. E., J. P. Kalt, et al. What can tribes do? : strategies and institutions in American Indian economic development. Los Angeles, American Indian Studies Center University of California Los Angeles, 1992.

Costo, R. and J. H. Costo. The Missions of California : a legacy of genocide. San Francisco, Published by The Indian Historian Press for the American Indian Historical Society, 1987.

Costo, R. and J. H. Costo. Natives of the Golden State, the California Indians. San Francisco, Indian Historian Press, 1995.

Deloria, J., Vine. Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. New York, Macmillan, 1969.

Deloria, J., Vine. God is Red: a Native View of Religion. Golden, CO, Fulcrum, 1994.

Deloria, J., Vine. Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. New York, Scribner, 1995.

Duran, E. and B. Duran. Native American postcolonial psychology. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1995.

Fixico, D. L. Rethinking American Indian history. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Fixico, D. L. The invasion of Indian country in the twentieth century : American capitalism and tribal natural resources. Niwot, Colo., University Press of Colorado, 1998.

Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York, Pantheon, 1965.

Foucault, M. The Archaeology of Knowledge. New York, Pantheon, 1972.

Foucault, M. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York, Vintage, 1973.

Foucault, M. The history of sexuality. New York, Pantheon Books, 1978.

Foucault, M. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York, Vintage, 1979.

Foucault, M. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1988.

Foucault, M. and L. D. Kritzman. Politics, philosophy, culture : interviews and other writings 1977-1984. New York, Routledge, 1988.

Harjo, J., P. Hilden, et al. (1997). Ethnicity and the problem of multicultural identity Where do you come from? Where do you go? : a native American literature conference. Eugene, OR, Knight Library IMC-ITV  Recording of the presentations at the University of Oregon’s 1997 conference on Native American literature.

Horne, D. A. Contemporary American Indian writing : unsettling literature. New York, Peter Lang, 1999.

Hoxie, F. E., P. C. Mancall, et al. American nations : encounters in Indian country, 1850 to the present. New York, Routledge, 2001.

Huhndorf, S. M. Going native : Indians in the American cultural imagination. Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2001.

Johnson, T. R. Contemporary Native American political issues. Walnut Creek Calif., AltaMira Press, 1999.

Johnson, T. R. and California State University Long Beach. American Indian Studies Program. (2000). American Indian history and related issues. Long Beach, Calif., Troy Johnson.

Krupat, A. Ethno-Criticism: Ethnography, History, Literature. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992.

Kuper, A. The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion. London, Routledge, 1988.

Lomawaima, K. T. They called it prairie light : the story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Mancall, P. C. and J. H. Merrell. American encounters : natives and newcomers from European contact to Indian removal, 1500-1850. New York, Routledge, 2000.

Marcus, G. E. a. M. M. J. F. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1999.

McNickle, D. A. The Indian tribes of the United States : ethnic and cultural survival. London ; New York, Oxford University Press, 1962.

McNickle, D. A. Native American tribalism; Indian survivals and renewals. New York,, Published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford University Press, 1973.

Medicine, B. and S.-E. Jacobs. Learning to be an anthropologist and remaining “Native” : selected writings. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Memmi, A. The Colonizer and the Colonized. New York, Orion Press, 1965.

Menchaca, M. Recovering history, constructing race : the Indian, Black, and white roots of Mexican Americans. Austin, University of Texas Press, 2001.

Mihesuah, D. A. Repatriation reader : who owns American Indian remains? Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Mihesuah, D. A. E. Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indians. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Nabokov, P. A forest of time : American Indian ways of history. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Nandy, A. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism. London, Oxford University Press, 1983.

Phillips, G. H. Chiefs and challengers : Indian resistance and cooperation in Southern California. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975.

Phillips, G. H. Indians and intruders in central California, 1769-1849. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Phillips, G. H. Indians and Indian agents : the origins of the reservation system in California, 1849-1852. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

Phillips, R. B. and C. B. Steiner. Unpacking culture : art and commodity in colonial and postcolonial worlds. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999.

Prucha, F. P. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1984.

Rose, D. B. Hidden histories : black stories from Victoria River Downs, Humbert River, and Wave Hill Stations. Canberra, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1991.

Rose, D. B. Dingo makes us human : life and land in an aboriginal Australian culture. Cambridge ; New York, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Rose, D. B. (2001). “Settler Colonialism and the transformation of anthropology.” Postcolonial Studies 4(2): 251-261.

Ross, L. Inventing the savage : the social construction of Native American criminality. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1998.

Roy, P. Indian traffic : identities in question in colonial and postcolonial India. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1998.

Ruoff, A. L. B. and J. W. Ward. Redefining American literary history. New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1990.

Smith, L. T. Decolonizing methodologies : research and indigenous peoples. London ; New York Dunedin, N.Z. New York, Zed Books ; University of Otago Press ; Distributed in the USA exclusively by St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Strickland, R. Tonto’s revenge : reflections on American Indian culture and policy. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Thornton, R. and Social Science Research Council (U.S.). Studying native America : problems and prospects. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Velie, A. R. Native American perspectives on literature and history. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

Vizenor, G. R. Manifest manners : postindian warriors of survivance. Hanover, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

Walker, C. Indian nation : Native American literature and nineteenth-century nationalisms. Durham N.C., Duke University Press, 1997.

Weaver, J. That the people might live : Native American literatures and Native American community. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.

 

 

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