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Anthropologica (Old Series) 1955

Jenness, Diamond. Canadian Indian Religion. Anthropologica 1955 Vol.1:1-17.

Jenness proposes that when the foundations of civilized society come into question, in this case the values of the 1950s Western World, the collective should look outside itself for alternative perspectives from which to gain an understanding of man’s purpose in the universe. The author suggests that in times of turmoil, we must look at the lessons of religion because the belief in religion is an overarching force that unites all people regardless of their particular faith. As an example, the article reflects on the norms and values of the Canadian Indian religion of an earlier era which embraced fluidity between the entities of man and nature, both animate and inanimate objects. This sense of cohesion is used as a contrast against the European, or Christian, notion that elevates man from his surroundings because he is endowed with a soul, something of which Jenness is critical.

The Indians tribes gave order to their universe by praying to a Great Spirit and by attributing a chief with magical powers to each living species. They accepted that multiple forces of good and evil were at play in the world around them but their primary concerns were focused on meeting their basic needs for survival. According to Jenness, this left little time or need for theorizing about an afterlife that was unimaginable and incalculable to the Indian. In providing examples of traditions, beliefs and taboos from Indian culture and religion, Jenness demonstrates that spiritual realization is a personal journey. For instance, the author uses a lengthy but rich narrative of a medicine man explaining the challenges he overcame to be granted his healing powers. Although medicine men were highly esteemed individuals in the tribe, they were never elevated to a priesthood that could oversee religious life. In contrast to Western European traditions, this religion did not build on myths of creation or moral folktales. The author argues that religion need not be a hierarchization of power or reduced to meaningless incantations in order for it to be valid.

The author presents a colourful and cohesive alternative to Christianity but this portrait of Canadian Indian religion is most likely filled with generalizations. It seems doubtful that the fifty tribes of which the author speaks hold such homogeneous values and beliefs.


AMANDA FOLEY University of Toronto (Krystyna Sieciechowicz)

Laviolette, Gontran O.M.I.. Notes on the Aborigenes of the Province of Quebec. Anthropologica, 1955-56. Vol. N.1 (3):198-211.

In this piece, Laviolette provides a demographic description of the aboriginal peoples of Quebec and Laborador. Dealing with native peoples under jurisdiction of the Federal Government of Canada, the anthropological data presented here appears to have served an administrative or governmental function. Using demographic information Laviolette classifies and catalogues the Indian bands and Eskimo Peoples of Quebec and Labrador in terms of population size and geographic location.

Part I of the article deals with the Indian bands of the province of Quebec. Laviolette opens with a brief colonial history of the area, beginning with the “discovery” of the Iroquois by Cartier in 1535. Next, he provides a detailed description and classification of population and geographic locations of the Iroquois (Caughnawaga, St. Regis, Oka), Huron (Lorette) and Algonquian (Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Montagnais-Naskapi, Algonquin proper and Cree) settlements.

Part II provides a similar taxonomy of the Eskimos of Quebec, the Belcher Islands and of Labrador. Laviolette asserts that the Eskimo peoples can be subdivided into 3 main subgroups, the Itivimiut, the Tahagmiut, and Suhinimiut. As was the case with the Indian bands of Quebec, these groups are catalogued according to population size and geographic locations.

In the sense that this work is an attempt to catalogue and classify several diverse groups of people, I find it quite problematic. Though this article appears to provide “factual” and “empirical” information, other than census material, there lacks any real description of anthropological methods. The introduction presents the political history of these peoples as unquestionable fact, yet it is clearly written from a colonial perspective.


EMMA JO AIKEN University of Toronto (Krystyna Sieciechowicz)

MacNeish, June Helm. Folktales of the Slave Indians. Anthropologica, 1955 (1): 37-44.

MacNeish presents a collection of short and fragmented aboriginal folktales as recounted by a young aboriginal Slave Indian in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The five tales in the article explore issues such as betrayal and retribution, honor, loss of innocence, compassion, integrity, strength, and courage.

The collection of tales is not contextualized in any way and the author has not attempted to analyze or theorize their contents. MacNeish presents the tales as they were recorded and the reader is left to establish their meanings and importance. The tales are uncomplicated, but, nevertheless, as is typical of fairy tales, leave room for multiple interpretations. Each story has its own distinct characters and plot, yet the morals and themes that run through each differ only slightly.

“The Crow and the Loon” is a story of betrayal and retribution, in which a crow’s single act of treachery results in lifelong punishment. “The Saga of Ehtsontsie” contains fragments of a story about a boy who has boundless power and who uses this power to the advantage of his people. “The Saga of the two Brothers” is a sparse account of two brothers who are unsatisfied with their place in the world and embark on their own adventures. “The Tiny People,” is a story about accepting those who are different and using your abilities to help others. The final story in the collection is called “The Giant-killer.” The author points out that this story probably is an adaptation of the European tale about “The Brave Little Tailor.” The end of the tale is altered from the European version in that the protagonist rejects an award from the king.

This collection of stories would be beneficial reading for those looking to explore the tradition of oral story telling and folklore among aboriginal cultures. However, considering the lack of supplementary contextualization or analysis of the tales, the article serves only as a brief introduction into this aspect of aboriginal cultures.


CATHRINE MAGELSSENUniversity of Toronto (Krystyna Sieciechowicz)

Radwanski, Pierre. Anthropological Structure of 101 Eskimo. Anthropologica, (dates) 1955 Vol. 1(issue?):72-83

Radwanski conducts a survey of 101 Eskimo hospitalized in Quebec City for pulmonary tuberculosis. Seventy-four individuals come from Baffin Island, and 24 from parts of Quebec. The bulk of the article consists of numerical and qualitative data, including measurements of the bodies and body parts, and types of nose, lips and foreheads of those hospitalized. With his data, he comes to the conclusion that more “primitive” characteristics could be found in the Baffin Island group than in the Quebec group; and this finding he correlates to those of two studies completed in the 19th century.

While it is difficult to determine exactly what Radwanksi’s theoretical beliefs are from his brief analysis, it is quite evident that he is influenced by racial evolutionism, where the existence of certain characteristics in humans can be used to place them into evolutionary stages. This is consistent with a resurgence of social evolutionary thinking in the 1950’s, although it is impossible to tell if Radwanski has been influenced directly by any of the prominent neo-evolutionists. Whatever his theoretical underpinnings his methodology and analysis undermines the credibility of any of his conclusions. He reduces the sample for each measurement to as low as seven individuals, and does not explain how many of these small samples are babies or children, who comprise almost half of the overall 101 people in question. Further, he remarks, after listing his statistics for “constitution type”, that he “did not discover a correlation of tuberculosis with any constitutional type”. He doesn’t seem to realize that such a correlation would be difficult to discover given that his only sample consists entirely of people in the hospital for tuberculosis.


KRIS MEEN University of Toronto (Krystyna Sieciechowicz)