Participation in indigenous suppression sets the pace of exogenous integration (nonsettler immigrants can then transubstantiate into settlers): Laurie K. Bertram, ‘”Eskimo” Immigrants and Colonial Soldiers: Icelandic Immigrants and the North-West Resistance, 1885’, Canadian Historical Review, 99, 1, 2018, pp. 63-97

18Mar18

Abstract: How did marginalized and racialized ethnic immigrants transform themselves into active, armed colonial agents in nineteenth-century Western Canada? Approximately twenty Icelanders enlisted to fight Louis Riel’s forces during the North-West Resistance in 1885, just ten years following the arrival of Icelandic immigrants in present-day Manitoba. Forty more reportedly enlisted in an Icelandic-Canadian battalion to enforce the government’s victory in the fall. This public, armed stance of a group of Icelanders against Indigenous forces in 1885 is somewhat unexpected, since most Icelanders were relatively recent arrivals in the West and, in Winnipeg, members of the largely unskilled urban working class. Moreover, they were widely rumoured among Winnipeggers to be from a “blubber-eating race” and of “Eskimo” extraction; community accounts testify to the discrimination numerous early Icelanders faced in the city. These factors initially make Icelanders unexpected colonialists, particularly since nineteenth-century ethnic immigration and colonial suppression so often appear as separate processes in Canadian historiography. Indeed, this scholarship is characterized by an enduring belief that Western Canadian colonialism was a distinctly Anglo sin. Ethnic immigrants often appear in scholarly and popular histories as sharing a history of marginalization with Indigenous people that prevented migrants from taking part in colonial displacement. Proceeding from the neglected history of Icelandic enlistment in 1885 and new developments in Icelandic historiography, this article argues that rather than negating ethnic participation in Indigenous suppression, ethnic marginality and the class tensions it created could actually fuel participation in colonial campaigns, which promised immigrants upward mobility, access to state support, and land.



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