2013 Doctoral Dissertation on Native Americans Who Have Become Bahá’ís

All Is One: Becoming Indigenous and Baha’i in Global North America, a 2013 doctoral dissertation by Chelsea Dawn Horton, “offers fresh perspective on Indigenous identity, conversion, and community. . . . through the little-studied lens of the Baha’i Faith,” according to the author.

Horton says in the abstract to her dissertation that “Several thousand Indigenous people ‘declared’ (or converted, as other faiths more commonly put it) as Baha’is in North America during the second half of the twentieth century. This study considers, by way of oral history, how and why Indigenous individuals from a broad range of backgrounds in both Canada and the United States, people who now share a sense of community, became Baha’is in this period. It demonstrates the dynamic interplay between their practices of Indigenous identities and of the Baha’i religion.

“Indeed, challenging conventional (and colonial) readings of Indigenous conversion and identity, which frame the first as assimilation and the second as static, this study illustrates that for many Indigenous adherents the process of becoming Baha’i was at once a process of becoming Indigenous. For some, becoming a Baha’i served to strengthen an existing sense of self as Indigenous, outside colonial strictures. For others, it was in fact through their Baha’i observance that they came to openly identify as Indigenous for the first time.

“Baha’i declaration and practice also brought adherents into new Indigenous and intercultural interaction, both in and outside the Baha’i community. Indigenous Baha’is often worked to realize their religious vision of peace and unity in diversity through outreach and service among other Indigenous people, in North America and elsewhere. In the process, they produced a sense of global Indigenous identification and made multiple contributions to such fields as Indigenous health, education, and cultural revitalization. In building Baha’i community, specifically, they also forged striking relationships of mutual respect with non-Indigenous adherents, while also confronting colonial tensions of intercultural communication and normative patterns of non-Indigenous practice and privilege. This study, then, further illuminates the pain and the promise of forging unity in diversity in Indigenous, and global, North America.”

All Is One contains nine chapters. After the opening chapter, the work proceeds in pairs of related chapters. Chapters 2 and 3—Genealogies and Narratives and Narrators—detail the “emergence of Indigenous-Bahá’í interations and “Indianness in North America. Chapters 4 and 5—Choosing the Faith and Declaring Spirituality—“turn to . . . ‘declaration stories” and the questions of how and why Indigenous people became Bahá’ís.” Chapters 6 and 7—Practicing Culture, and Building a Baha’i Community—explore “efforts to live the vision of unity in diversity.” The final two chapters—Teaching and Traveling and Closing—examine the “transnational framework.”

Chelsea Dawn Horton, who hails from North Vancouver in British Columbia, received her B.A. in history (with honors) and her M.A., also in history, from Simon Fraser University. She has just completed her doctorate in history at the University of British Columbia. She plans to continue teaching and conducting research in the fields of indigenous history and the history of religion.

Horton, who is not a Bahá’í, consulted many Bahá’ís for her dissertation: the Bahá’ís who are the subject of her study; Roger Dahl, National Bahá’í Archives, Wilmette, Illinois; Geral Filson, Canadian Bahá’í Community; Will van den Hoonaard, a Canadian sociologist; and many more Bahá’ís, including Dr. Robert S. Stockman, the director of the Wilmette Institute. Horton published a revised version of her undergraduate honors thesis, “Beyond Red Power: The Alternative Activism of Dorothy Maquabeak Francis” in The Journal of Bahá’í Studies (14, no. 3/4 [Sept.-Dec. 2004]: 35–71).

You can access Horton’s doctoral dissertation at http://hdl.handle.net/2429/44821. Scroll down below the Abstract to “Files in the item.” Click on the file name to access the pdf.