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Conflicts among Doukhobors and with their neighbors

Conflicts with Neighbours

[ A crowd of land seekers besiege the Yorkton land titles office seeking lands expropriated from the Doukhobor commune by the federal government, , Koozma Tarasoff personal collection 1130 ]

Although they were regarded in Russia primarily as religious dissidents, once in Canada, a much more secular country, religious objections became secondary. What was at issue to mainstream Canadians, who the Doukhobors called Angliki or “English,” was not really their spiritual outlook. Instead, what their neighbors found objectionable was the Doukhobors’ way of life. The complaints centred on the unjust competition provided by the Doukhobor commune, the burning of taxpayer-funded schools, the shock of catching sight of nude Doukhobor zealots, and on what Angliki perceived as highhanded, arbitrary treatment of those within the Doukhobor community by Peter Verigin. In short, people in western Canada mainly objected to the Doukhobors and their leaders over matters of wealth, culture and power, which were secular rather than religious issues.

Economic competition provided by the Doukhobor commune was one of the key fears expressed by non-Doukhobors. Although it was called a commune and was operated along those lines, the Doukhobors Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood Ltd. was also a sizable business machine that put the fear of extinction into the hearts of its small-capitalist farm neighbors. The commune produced or bought wholesale much that its members needed, leaving merchants in nearby towns largely shut out. In 1913, the Blakemore Royal Commission in B.C. reported that “The Grand Forks people are extremely jealous of the very successful colonisation ways of the Doukhobors.” When Verigin died in 1924, the commune held tens of thousands of hectares of land spread from Saskatchewan to B.C, and the total value of its property was estimated to be $6,410,822, most of it free of debt.

Conflict With Governments

Education was one of the prickliest thorns in the relationship between the Doukhobors on the one hand and, on the other, both mainstream society and provincial governments, especially in British Columbia. In 1982, Nick Nevokshonoff, a Community Doukhobor elder, would explain to a public forum that “We understood from way back, in reality education is … the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve. … [I]t was better not to taste it.” This sentiment marked the Doukhobors in Russia and would also prevail among many of those who came to Canada and the first generation born in Canada.

Doukhobors complained that Canadian schools taught immoral values. One was the preparation for military service, which in the years before, during and after the First World War, was an integral element of elementary education in most Canadian classrooms. As pacifists, the Doukhobors found this to be highly offensive. No less irritating to the Doukhobors was that education seemed to downplay, if not to denigrate, their guiding principle of “Toil and Peaceful Life.” Toil to the Doukhobors primarily meant agricultural labor or other honest toil of “working-class people,” which they regarded themselves as. To them, proper education must be practical, intended to teach children useful skills in the home and field. Such useful training could best be done by the Doukhobors themselves.



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