Campus: Wilfrid Laurier
Office: DAWB 4-136

Associate Professor, WLU
Degrees: PhD (UBC, 1999), MA, BA (Toronto, 1991, 1990)

I am Canadianist particularly interested in Aboriginal-non-Aboriginal relations. I specialize in the Native-Missionary encounter on Northwest Coast of North America in the 19th and 20th centuries. I am available to supervise graduate students on topics related to Aboriginal Canadian History; Aboriginal peoples and Colonialism; Native North America; and Comparative Indigenous Ethnohistory.

My first monograph was “The Heavens are Changing”: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity (Neylan, 2003). It is a regional ethnohistory of 19th century Protestant mission work among the Coast Tsimshian of British Columbia’s north coast. For this book, I concentrated on the first generation of Tsimshian Christians (1857-1901), when considerable agency and resistance to unwanted mission forms were still possible. I examined the Aboriginal role in mission work to discover not only their contributions to local churches, but how such forms were indigenized and made more relevant to Aboriginal culture. Pre-existing indigenous discourse on transformation informed Native reception to Christianity, and the nature of the Native roles within the mission sphere did not entirely forsake this spiritual history. Indeed, I was struck by the degree of fluidity of missions in the field, which blurred the boundaries among spiritual expressions and identities. Nor was this confined to the experiences of the Tsimshian with Christianity. During my tenure as a Canada-US Fulbright Scholar (Winter 2006) at the University of Washington in Seattle, I examined several Coast Salish groups’ interpretations of Christianity in the 19th century, in particular their founding of the Indian Shaker Church, finding they too embraced permeable spiritual borderlands and genuine Native Christian identities.

Yet my emphasis on Aboriginal agency in Native-Christian relations is not to suggest that Christianization wasn’t also coercive, repressive, and destructive to Aboriginal cultures. By the end of the 19th century in British Columbia, the colonial environment was gone but colonialism was not; the full force of provincial and federal “Indian” policy in cultural, political, and economic matters complicated the choices (or lack of choices) for Tsimshian Christians. In several other publications, my discussions revolve particular facets of this struggle, such as debates surrounding class (Neylan, 2000), gender and family (Neylan, 2002), and even the Christian identity and its relationship to Aboriginal land claims (Neylan, 2005). In my current research endeavours, I work towards developing more collaboratively-based history projects done in conjunction with and participation by Tsimshian communities. Recently my interests have turned to social histories focused on forms of cultures that may have been first introduced by missionaries which have since taken on a distinctive life of their own meaningful expressions of the Aboriginal identity—brass bands and sports such as basketball. Native musical groups, be they marching bands, dance orchestras, or jazz ensembles permitted the engagement of age-old Aboriginal traditions of public performance, travel, competition, and corporate identity (Neylan and Meyer, 2006-7). I believe they demonstrate how older cultural identities and practices persist in new forms, and how by the 20th century, these bands had emerged as a village-based, connective institutions that intertwined family, community, and culture. I am also working on a project that examines how this same multi-functionality might have also been characteristic in Western/Euro-Canadian sporting activities adopted by Aboriginal peoples, such as the 60 year old All-Native Basketball Tournament, held annually in the heart of Tsimshian territory.

Representative Publications

  • Binnema, Ted. and Susan Neylan, eds. New Histories for Old: Changing Perspectives on Canada’s Aboriginal Pasts. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007 (in press: Nov 2007).
  • Neylan, Susan [senior author]. With Melissa Meyer, “‘Here Comes the Band!’: Cultural Collaboration, Connective Traditions, and Aboriginal Brass Bands on British Columbia’s North Coast, 1875-1964,” BC Studies, No. 152 (Winter 2006-07): 33-66.
  • Neylan, Susan. “‘Eating the Angel’s Food’: Arthur Wellington Clah — an Aboriginal Perspective on Protestant Missions in Northern British Columbia, 1857-1909.” Pp. 88-108. In Canadian Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples: Representing Religion at Home and Abroad, eds. Alvyn Austin and Jamie Scott. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
  • Neylan, Susan. “The Heavens are Changing”: Nineteenth-Century Protestant Missions and Tsimshian Christianity. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003.
  • Neylan, Susan. “Encountering Spirits: Evangelical and Holiness Revivals in Victoria, B.C., and the ‘Colonial Project,'” in special edition on “Intersections of Religious and Social History” of Histoire Sociale/Social History36, no. 71 (May 2003): 175-204.
  • Neylan, Susan. “Contested Family: Navigating Kin and Culture in Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian,” in Households of Faith: Family, Gender, and Community in Canada, 1730-1969.Ed. Nancy Christie, pp. 167-202. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002.
  • Neylan, Susan. “Longhouses, Schoolrooms, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association new series, Vol. 11 (2000): 51-86.