Contact Zones
320 pages, 6 x 9
16 b&w photographs
Release Date:01 Jul 2006
Release Date:08 Nov 2005
Release Date:01 Oct 2007

Contact Zones

Aboriginal and Settler Women in Canada's Colonial Past

UBC Press

Contact Zones locates Canadian women’s history within colonial and imperial systems. As both colonizer and colonized (sometimes even simultaneously), women were uniquely positioned at the axis of the colonial encounter – the so-called “contact zone” – between Aboriginals and newcomers. Some women were able to transgress the bounds of social expectation, while others reluctantly conformed to them.

Aboriginal women such as E. Pauline Johnson, Bernice Loft, and Ethel Brant Monture shaped identities for themselves in both worlds. By recognizing the necessity to “perform,” they enchanted and educated white audiences across Canada. On the other side of the coin, newcomers imposed increasing regulation on Aboriginal women’s bodies. Missionaries, for example, preached the virtues of Christian conjugality over mixed-race and polygamous marriages, especially those that hadn’t been ratified by the church. The Department of Indian Affairs agents withheld treaty payments or removed the children of Aboriginal women who did not “properly” perform their duties as wives and mothers. In short, Aboriginal women were expected to consent to moral, sexual, and marital rules that white women were already beginning to contest.

Contact Zones draws upon a vast array of primary sources to provide insight into the ubiquity and persistence of colonial discourse, and to demonstrate how it ultimately was an embodied experience. Above all, it shows how the colonial enterprise was about embodied contacts. What bodies belonged inside the nation, who were outsiders, and who transgressed the rules — these are the questions at the heart of this provocative book.

Jean Barman’s chapter from Contact Zones, “Aboriginal Women on the Streets of Victoria: Rethinking Transgressive Sexuality during the Colonial Encounter”, won the award from the Canadian Committee on the History of Sexuality.

Cecilia Morgan’s “Performing for ‘Imperial Eyes’: Bernice Loft and Ethel Brant Monture, Ontario, 1930s-60s” from Contact Zones, was awarded the Hilda Neatby Prize in Canadian Women's History.


  • 2006, Winner - Best Article on the History of Sexuality in Canada, Canadian Historical Association
[The book] is an ambitious attempt to review Canadian history and the building of the Canadian nation form a radically different perspective. It is an original work of interest to those researching the topic of womanhood and racial categorization in colonial English Canada. Stephanie Vielle, Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, 2006

Katie Pickles is an associate professor of History at the University of Canterbury. Myra Rutherdale is an associate professor in the Department of History at York University. Contributors: Jean Barman, Robin Jarvis Brownlie, Sarah A. Carter, Jo-Anne Fiske, Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag, Cecilia Morgan, Dianne Newell, Adele Perry, Sherry Farrell Racette, and Joan Sangster



Introduction / Katie Pickles and Myra Rutherdale

Part 1: Dressing and Performing Bodies: Aboriginal Women, Imperial Eyes, and Betweenness

1 Sewing for a Living: The Commodification of Métis Women’s Artistic Production / Sherry Farrell Racette

2 Championing the Native: E. Pauline Johnson Rejects the Squaw / Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag

3 Performing for “Imperial Eyes”: Bernice Loft and Ethel Brant Monture, Ontario, 1930s-60s / Cecilia Morgan

4 Spirited Subjects and Wounded Souls: Political Representations of an Im/moral Frontier / Jo-Anne Fiske

Part 2: Regulating the Body: Domesticity, Sexuality, and Transgression

5 Metropolitan Knowledge, Colonial Practice, and Indigenous Womanhood: Missions in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia / Adele Perry

6 Creating “Semi-Widows” and “Supernumerary Wives”: Prohibiting Polygamy in Prairie Canada’s Aboriginal Communities to 1900 / Sarah A. Carter

7 Intimate Surveillance: Indian Affairs, Colonization, and the Regulation of Aboriginal Women’s Sexuality / Robin Jarvis Brownlie

8 Domesticating Girls: The Sexual Regulation of Aboriginal and Working-Class Girls in Twentieth-Century Canada / Joan Sangster

Part 3: Bodies in Everyday Space: Colonized and Colonizing Women in Canadian Contact Zones

9 Aboriginal Women on the Streets of Victoria: Rethinking Transgressive Sexuality during the Colonial Encounter / Jean Barman

10 “She Was a Ragged Little Thing”: Missionaries, Embodiment, and Refashioning Aboriginal Womanhood in Northern Canada / Myra Rutherdale

11 Belonging – Out of Place: Women’s Travelling Stories from the Western Edge / Dianne Newell

12 The Old and New on Parade: Mimesis, Queen Victoria, and Carnival Queens on Victoria Day in Interwar Victoria / Katie Pickles



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