michael witgen on rethinking the native new world
bit in lieu of abstract:
It is a mistake to imagine that Native peoples held political power only when they could align themselves with European empires and nation-states. Native peoples held power when they controlled territory and when they used political, military, and economic power to assert place and belonging on a continent undergoing massive transformation. The history of modern North America is a story of contact between immigrants and indigenous peoples that gave rise to concepts like race, nation, and sovereignty, which gave shape to the new nations of North America: indigenous tribal nations and composite nation-states.
Grounding the history of the West within the story of the emergence and evolution of a Native New World makes the history of indigenous peoples central to the history of North America. It also underscores the significance of settler colonialism to the history of the United States and the history of America’s western expansion. In the Old Northwest, the United States had to work hard as a colonizing power to make Anishinaabewaki into an American space. Michigan remained a territory until 1837, and Wisconsin and Minnesota were not even organized as territories until 1836 and 1849, respectively. In each of these places, Native peoples lost territory, but they resisted removal to Indian Territory and maintained reservations on tribal homelands. Even more remarkable, their mixed-race Anishinaabe relatives won the right to vote, sanctioned by Congress, during a century when Americans restricted the franchise to white men and excluded Indians and people of African and Asian descent from citizenship. In order to understand how some Anishinaabeg fought—and succeeded—in remaining Indians on their homelands whileothers used their Indianness to gain political power and citizenship in America’s newly created western territories, we need to understand the long trajectory of contact in North American history that begins in the West with the history of the Native New World.
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