On missionaries vs colonisers (III)

Robert Woodberry situates missionaries in Australia and elsewhere in relation to other white settlers.



Robert Woodberry situates missionaries in Australia and elsewhere in relation to other white settlers.


Missionaries were shaped by the people who funded them. And in European settler colonies, like Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, missionaries were often funded by white settlers. Now sometimes they were funded by people outside, and that gave them greater freedom to be critical. But often they were funded by white settlers, and they certainly had to live with white settlers and interact with them.

At the same time, they were the main group that prevented indigenous people from being completely wiped out – which a lot of white settlers tried to do. In Australia, white settlers often just killed off Aboriginal people, and didn’t try to protect their land at all, they tried to take it away. And they set up systems where Aboriginal people were not allowed to enter into town, to live in towns, etc, like they … all kinds of racist laws that sound like apartheid in South Africa.

Same thing in the United States and Canada. White people took away indigenous land, white people killed a lot of indigenous people – to the extent that people protested that, the vast majority of the people who protested these exterminations were missionaries. So the fact that there are indigenous populations that survived is partially due to the role of missionaries in preventing them from being wiped out.

At the same time, missionaries didn’t like indigenous religion and tried to replace it. They came to view … they came to the idea that the best way for indigenous people to survive would be is if they were integrated into white society. And they often became involved in assimilationist programs: education, boarding schools where indigenous people were taken away from their parents and educated in Western things to try and make them fit into white society – to the extent that laws, many of which were racist, allowed them to be part of white society.

So it’s a complex relationship of changing culture, co-operating in government policies to assimilate people, but at the same time keeping them alive and protecting their property to the extent that [if] anyone fought for those things, it tended to be missionaries.