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Logo: Cultural heritage as a resource?
Logo Leibniz Universität Hannover
Logo: Cultural heritage as a resource?
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Indigenous versus Newcomer History: From the Moravian Fairfield Mission, 1792- 1902, to the Lunaapeew Culture Revival in the 21st Century"

Indigenous versus Newcomer History: From the Moravian Fairfield Mission, 1792-
1902, to the Lunaapeew Culture Revival in the 21st Century"

Direction: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Gabbert, Institute for Sociology, Hannover

Assistant: Dr. phil. Menja Holtz

This is a micro- and culture history project which is based on the analysis of mission documents and applies a biographical approach to indigenous history. This is supposed to highlight the role of indigenous actors in and keepers of history. The community with whom I work came to Ontario as members of the Moravian church in 1792. In the first place they were Lunaapeew/ Delaware, Mun­see and Mahic­an, who were forced to migrate from their original territory around the Dela­ware and Hudson Rivers. I mainly analyse the records of the Moravian Indian Mission, which are stored at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA. They consist of reports, diaries and letters of the (male) missionaries to their authorities and colleagues. During several visits in Moraviantown I was able to gain important insights about contemporary history politics of the Delaware First Nation as well as material traces of the cultural encounter between European missionaries and Natives. I am guided by two research questions: Did Indigenous people who converted to Christianity cross a cultural boundary between Europe and America? And how is this supposed or imagined boundary visible in historiography; how is it to be overcome? For me as European, academic author it means to reflect on how I can write an indigenous or euro-critical history, without pretending to hold an indigenous perspective?

Traditional historiography has depicted the inhabitants of the evolving Canadian society as European “civilization bringers”. Even the Moravian mission has been read as encounter between Europe and America: the converts could become part of European civilization, meaning to get entirely rid of their old habits, beliefs and lifestyle. They were supposed to only live by European standards, and to practice only Christian rituals. The others remain “savages”, doomed to extinction. But, the Native converts picked the best of both cultures for themselves, and created an own version of Christian practice for their respective community. This strategy is not explicitly mentioned in the records, but has to found in between the lines. The authors of the mission records gradually took on the binary, racist discourse of 19th century colonialism. While formerly, they had been close to their converts and had separated from white society, their later texts speak of the “poor”, unsavable  Indians in contrast to the struggling missionary martyrs, suffering from living solely among “heathen”, who were “ignorant” of their teachings.

Did those Lunaapeew who converted, cross a cultural boundary, whereby they betrayed the cause of their ancestors? This allegation has been made especially to those indigenous people who converted willingly and took on Christianity as their new spiritual perspective and entrance to a better (material) life. My hypothesis is that there have existed many ways of dealing with the ‘cultural boundary’, and despite it, there has existed a Cultural Heritage of “the Delaware”, besides the political entity. Methodologically, my project is an analysis and making explicit of the conflict between indigen­ous and euro-Canadian memory politics. These competing versions of history on the one hand show the dichotomy between the pretension of discursive hegemony of Western science in opposition to Indigenous peoples, whom it denies an active role in history as well as an intellect­ual role rehabili­tating it. On the other hand, the inhabitants of Moraviantown neither represent a uni­form, nor an objective or ‘correct’ perspective – but a legitimate and central one.

The material and textual traces of indigenous memory or his­tory politics materialize in various forms. Human action inscribes itself by way of culture and sym­bol systems and leaves traces, which in lat­er times open these activities for interpretations. It is artifacts and objects, monuments, buildings and places, as well as pictures, such as photographs. These traces are not to be confused with ‘reality’. Rather, their context of reception needs to be reflected. To find and analyze these material traces are the first base of the project.

The second base is to extract the biographical information from the records (the textual traces of cultural encounter). The biographies of Moravian Delaware offer a valuable source for bringing to light the tactics of a community to create an identity across various cultural and political bound­aries. Biographies of Delaware also show the manifold mechanisms and opportunities of social self-positioning, as well as politics of identity and belonging. In order to highlight the cultural strategies of Delaware, I ask how Cultural Heritage is used as resource in this (mainly) Lunaapeew community. In the course of time, some elements are strengthened and emphasized (internally and externally), traces of cultural encounter as well as cultural knowledge are being preserved and/or reappropriated. A Euro-critical or ‘indigenous’ research searches for oral and material as well as cultural sources besides the written documents.