Thursday, February 23, 2017

Manegerial Perspectives on a "good indian"

I have been getting back to reading a worked through " THE CONCEPT OF THE GOOD INDIAN: AN ALBANY RIVER 19TH CENTURY MANAGERIAL PERSPECTIVE” by M Elizabeth Arthur last week.  The author reviews Hudson's Bay records for 50 years in the 1800s in the Albany district, in order to examine ideas about what was considered to be a, "good Indian".  This article is from 1985 and feels its age.  It is a pretty straight forward recounting of what is in the records without any additional theory or dis discussion of what her findings mean.  Despite this limitation, it was interesting to access the voices of the fort managers and peer into this little slice of bureaucracy.  I found it tempting to draw assumptions from this text, but I don't think this would be fruitful without would further theoretical grounding.  This screams for some Foucault to me.

Arthur reviewed the records of 30 manager (5 Métis and 25 Scottish).  She finds the Métis records notable for their strict application of reporting standards and were lacking in any of the personal reflections included in the reports of the Scottish managers.  For workers, she describes that there were standards for the different functions, for example, a good hunter was one who brought in the equivalent of 100 or more beaver pelts.  But that these standards were not strictly applied. 

A rating of goodness included things such regular appearance at the same post and most managers would describe extenuating circumstances when an Indian they considered worthy, had not met a particular rule.  There were also cases where the personalities of the Indians were taken into account, such as one man who was described as troublesome but very useful once he was humored and flattered.

Interestingly, she highlights that problem drinking was not one of the charges brought against Indian workers.  Only three employees, all Scottish, were identified with problem drinking  and in two of these cases, information from Métis managers were used in the determination on these cases.

Arthur notes that the term half breed was not often used in the records.  She suggests that it was not because it was an offensive term, but because it was a characterization that was not important in this context.  Overall she finds, that the concept of goodness was " ...adapted to the needs of their trade and the realities of contact with human, beings..."

Thus leaving us with a perfect segue to speculation and contemplation on the role of residential schools in the creation of the modern stereotypes of Indigenous peoples.  I won't go down that path.  However, as a manager, I did find it interesting how unchanging the ideas of a good worker are even over all that time. 

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