Chinese Canadians and First Nations: 150 Years of Shared Experience

Annotated Bibliography:

Canada | United States & Australia | Oral Histories | |Media & Fiction |

Barman, Jean. Chinese/Aboriginal couples in early British Columbia
Research notes by Jean Barman for the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia. Unpublished resource. Vancouver: Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, 2007.

Because of the longstanding disinterest among visitors, and other observers, and scholars in Chinese and Aboriginal British Columbians, there is lack of attention given to Chinese/Aboriginal couples. Nevertheless, from the sources of information that do survive, Barman has listed Chinese/Aboriginal unions from various types of sources: marriage records, baptismal records, census returns, education records, contemporary accounts, oral recollections, and published accounts.

Barman, Jean. Paper on Chinese & Aboriginal couples in early BC - Interviews. Unpublished resource. Vancouver: Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, 2007.

Notes that Jean Barman has taken on some tapes from the BC Archives in Victoria, featuring interviews with mixed Chinese-Aboriginal couples.

Brown, Lorraine.  Domestic service in British Columbia, 1850-1914.  Department of History.  Master of Arts thesis, University of Victoria, 1995.

In analyzing the period between the 1850s and the early 1900s, this Masters thesis argues that in order to attempt to solve the ‘servant problem,’ white middle and upper class inhabitants of British Columbia planned to re-create the British domestic sphere in a new land.   Not only had some families brought their British servants along with them during immigration, there were repeated efforts to import English girls and women en masse.   As this thesis reveals, although employers were obliged to tolerate Aboriginal and Chinese servants in their homes as servants, British Columbia’s peculiar ‘servant problem’ ensured that the Imperial vision of employer-servant relations and domestic order could not be replicated.   Moreover, since the average servant-retaining household had only one employee, some white employers actually developed friendships with their First Nations and Chinese servants.   In an under-stocked market, both First Nations and Chinese servants had greater leverage than their counterparts elsewhere; in fact, servants often had the freedom to change employers.   

Chow, Lily. Chasing Their Dream: Chinese Settlement in the Northwest Region of British Columbia.   Madeira Park, B.C: Caitlin Press, 2000.

In examining the period between 1880 and 1885, Chasing Their Dreams recreates the hardships early Chinese settlers faced in Northwestern British Columbia: harsh land and climate, little or no financial resources, deep-set prejudice and racial violence.  While panning for gold, making ties for the railroad, canning fish, running laundries and restaurants, Chinese communities persevered despite persecution by the local populace and the provincial and federal governments. The documentation of Chinese relations with northern First Nations make this monograph one of the most thoroughly researched histories of Chinese settlement in British Columbia, and one of the first that examines Aboriginal-Chinese interaction in scholarly research.  

Chow, Lily.  Sojourners in the North.  Madeira Park, B.C: Caitlin Press, 1996.

Chow is one of the first scholars to examine the early Chinese migrants who had came to British Columbia.  These migrants are often unrecorded in written histories.  In particular, the book explores Chinese communities in Barkerville during the gold rush days up to 20th-century Prince George.

Chow, Lily. Intermarriage between First Nations Women and the Early Chinese Immigrants to Canada: Case Studies in British Columbia 1880-1950. Ed. Robert Wesley Heber. Indigenous Education: Asia/Pacific.  Indigenous Studies Research Centre First Nations University of Canada: 2008: 345-358.

Chow’s research article is one of the most insightful analyses of Aboriginal-Chinese interracial relationships in the literature.  In interviewing the descendents of three such families from Aboriginal-Chinese relationships, an attempt is made to offer reasons as to why the Chinese emigrated from China in the 19th century, how they assisted one another, the benefits the Chinese received from the relationships with the First Nations and why the relationships succeeded or failed.   Chow attempts to show how both the Indian Act as implemented in 1850 and cultural differences have affected Aboriginal-Chinese marriages and lives as well as those of their descendents.    
Christian, Dorothy.   "Articulating a Silence."   Ricepaper Magazine.  (9) 3: 22-21. 

This is an autobiographical piece written by Christian, who is an Aboriginal-Chinese.  As a child, Christian had hidden her Chinese-Native roots.  However, as an adult, the activist-turned filmmaker finally gives voice to her past in a testimonial.  The article reveals not only how the marriage between her mother and father took place, but ultimately, the strain of being both Aboriginal and Chinese. 

Friesen, Darren.  Canada's Other Newcomers: Aboriginal Interactions with People from the Pacific. Master of Arts Thesis.  The College of Graduate Studies and Research, Department of History, University of Saskatchewan, 2006. 

Thiesen’s thesis not only re-examines the historiography of race relations and Native-Newcomer interactions in British Columbia, but also explores relationships during the fur trade between Hawaiian men employed at Fort Langley and the Kwantlen people; the ways in which the Stó:lõ people grouped the miners who came to the Fraser Canyon in 1858; and also the Stó:lõ people’s interactions with Chinese immigrants and Japanese immigrant fishermen from the 1860s through to the 1880s.  While the Stó:lõ did not differentiate between Hawaiians, Canadians, and British employees in arranged marriages during the early contact period in the early nineteenth century, a social hierarchy had eventually developed in which the British and Canadians were preferred because it enhanced the social prestige of Stó:lõ families.   Consequently, as the 19th century progressed, Friesen argues that Aboriginal relations with non-Europeans took a different path than relations with Europeans.   

Herbert, Christopher.  Unequal Participants: Race and Space in the Interracial Interactions of the Cariboo Goldfields, 1860-1871.  Master of Arts Thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2003.

Complex interracial interactions involving Chinese, White, Black, and Native participants during the gold field period from 1860-1871 occurred in the Cariboo region of British Columbia.  As Herbert argues, such interactions are contrary to the traditional historiography of this period as the nature of interracial interactions between Blacks, Chinese, First Nations and Euro-Canadians varied depending on the sub-region of the Cariboo in which they occurred.   In the hinterland, a diversity of economies ensured that interracial interactions took place without the White dominance that characterized the towns and mines and ensured a degree of 'equality' for different groups. However, such was not the case in the towns, as elite Whites attempted to create those towns as an idealized space through the application of social norms that reinforced their power.  In the third sub-region studied by Herbert, a community of gold miners dominated by working-class Whites attempted to dictate social norms, and therefore interracial interactions, in the mines.  Because of this, the idealized space of the gold field towns sought to exclude the Natives and the Chinese physically, socially, and economically and from these areas.

Morra, Linda.  "Like Rain Drops Rolling Down New Paint": Chinese Immigrants and the Problem of National Identity in the Work of Emily Carr.  American Review of Canadian Studies. (34)3.

This article focuses on Chinese immigrants and the problem of national identity in the work of artist Emily Carr.  In examining Carr's literary works, the article argues that much of the stereotypes of positional superiority of English-Canadians are apparent in Carr's writing.    Although Carr characterized both Aboriginal and Chinese in her work as marginalized populations, her writings did not extend the same degree of indignation at government injustices to the Chinese as they did with regards to the Aboriginal populace.

Mawani, Renisa.  The 'savage Indian' and the 'foreign plague': Mapping racial categories and legal geographies of race in British Columbia, 1871--1925.  PhD Dissertation.  University of Toronto, 2001. 

In exploring how the myth of British Columbia as a white settler society was socially, legally, and spatially constituted from 1871-1925, Mawani's dissertation examines how the exclusion of Aboriginal and Chinese peoples – two communities who were racially marked in distinct ways and subjected to unique forms of regulation – enabled the Canadian state and religious administrators to assert a "pure" British identity in the province.  Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the desire for white supremacy in British Columbia was largely constituted geographically, which designated whites and communities of colour in their "proper" spaces.  In doing so, government officials relied on a variety of segregationist strategies in their efforts to carve up the province into racially marked districts.

Mawani also focuses on the interracial relationships that occurred in British Columbia.  Because state authorities feared that mixed-race couples produced politically dangerous offspring who would disrupt the racial order of things by attempting to claim the privileges of both whiteness and Indian-ness, state authorities endeavoured to restrict and invalidate the land claims made by mixed-race peoples.  Because mixed-bloods were not "Indians" by law and did not fall under federal jurisdiction, provincial and local administrators feared that their ability to transgress race and space meant that racially-hybrid peoples would potentially undermine state initiatives to control land, "civilize" Native peoples, and build a white settler society. 

Mawani, Renisa.  Cross-Racial Encounters and Juridical Truths: (Dis)Aggregating Race in British Columbia’s Contact Zone.  BC Studies, 156, Winter 2007/08: 141-171.

Drawing from two Royal Commissions, Mawani explores some of the ways that Chinese migration to British Columbia shifted terrains of colonial power, creating new anxieties and pressures for Indian agents, missionaries, and legal authorities.  In particular, the article examines how the arrival of Chinese migrants from the late 19th century onwards unsettled the region's racial topography.  Large-scale Chinese migration to British Columbia reconfigured colonial relations between Aboriginal peoples and Euro-Canadians.   In examining the juridical history of Aboriginal-Chinese encounters in a colonial framework, Mawani not only discovers a transnational language of race, but also reveals the "racial truths" which depicted the Aboriginal as vulnerable and the Chinese as cunning and despotic. 

Morton, Jamie. Industry, ideology, and social formation in British Columbia, 1849--1885. PhD Dissertation, University of Victoria (Canada), 2005.

This dissertation examines how the systems of production of the commodity-exporting industries of pre-1885 British Columbia contributed to the social formation of the region.  In examining how economic and cultural factors intersected to produce a distinct regional, Morton's research reveals that British Columbia had attracted Euro-North American immigrants hoping to escape social restrictions or social mobility by achieving independent producer status.  

Combining the demand for labour with racial ideology, certain jobs were racialized, and BC industries were typified by split labour markets, with an upper echelon comprised of occupationally-mobile Euro-North American workers, and a lower echelon defined by race as well as skill, with little opportunity for mobility. Because these immigrants resisted wage labour, creating a chronic shortage that impeded industrial development, cheap Chinese immigrants or Aboriginal workers were brought in to fill the gap as well as to create the new social and racial order. 

Lawrence, Bonita Elisabeth.  "Real" Indians and others: Mixed-race urban Native people, the Indian Act, and the rebuilding of indigenous nations. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, 2004.  

Bonita argues that "Native identity" for urban mixed-race Native people is shaped by both colonial regulation under the Indian Act and one’s Native heritage and connection to the land.  Through the narratives, based on interviews with thirty individuals of mixed Native and non-Native heritage living in the Toronto region, the thesis reveals the loss of community that genocidal government policies has had on the participants' families.  In examining the extent to which the sexist and racist regulations within the Indian Act had on the Native identity, Lawrence reveals the alienation of individuals from their communities and the resulting fragmentation of Aboriginal peoples' identities, particularly the categorical division of "status Indians", "Metis", "Bill C-31 Indians", "reserve Indians" and "urban Indians". 

Ross, Becki. Spectacular Striptease Performing the Sexual and Racial Other in Vancouver, B.C., 1945-1975. Journal of Women's History 17.1 (2005) 137-164.

Ross examines postwar striptease in Vancouver, British Columbia, and sheds new light on received understandings of exotic dancing's "golden age," which flourished until the mid-1970s. This article proposes that the racialization of the industry resulted in a geography of the city's nightlife which was structured according to a racial hierarchy. In exploring the ways in which white women and women of color were differentially located within local and transnational circuits of erotic entertainment, the author reveals that striptease staged the performance not only of sexuality but also of race. Racial hierarchy produced prestige and profitability for white dancers while resulting in stereotypes and limited marketability that constrained dancers of color. Neither exoticized nor misrepresented on Vancouver's stages, women of colour were simply absent and unrepresented as spectacles of even the most graphically-racialized sexuality. Those First Nations women who danced in Vancouver were able to do so only because they were "part-Native" and light-skinned enough to pass as white, or in the case of Tia Maria, to pass as Asian. Since a biracial First Nations dancer's best chance of success relied on her passing herself off as anything other than Native, this reveals the low status of Native women's sexuality in colonial anti-Indian discourse and practice.

Wong, Lloyd.  Migrant seasonal agricultural labour: Race and ethnic relations in the Okanagan Valley.  PhD Dissertation.  York University, 1988.  

In examining race and ethnic relations between migrant seasonal agricultural workers in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia from 1900 to the present, this dissertation examines relations between Chinese, Doukhobor, Japanese, Indian and French agricultural workers.  In focusing on the Okanagan Valley, Wong dissects the segmented labour markets and race and ethnic relations in order to provide the theoretical framework that contrasts the theoretical model of French-English ethnic relations, particularly witr regards to ethnic discrimination of French migrant seasonal agricultural workers.   Wong's historical findings reveal that racism was experienced by Chinese and Japanese workers, and ethnic discrimination was experienced by Doukhobor workers.  The main survey’s research findings center on the ethnic discrimination as experienced by French migrant workers, occurring primarily in their leisure activities and, to a lesser extent, in employment.