Tributary relations and settler colonialism: Russell Dylan Ruediger, Tributary Subjects: Affective Colonialism, Power, and the Process of Subjugation in Colonial Virginia, c. 1600 – c. 1740, PhD Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2017
Abstract: My dissertation explores tributary relationships between Algonquin, Siouan, and Iroquoian Indians and English settlers in Virginia, placing the process of political subjection into the heart of narratives of dispossession. Both indigenous Chesapeake and European political traditions shared ideas of tribute as a structure linking unequal, but conceptually autonomous and self-governing, polities in hierarchical relationships of power. By treating colonial tributary relations as a trans-Atlantic political institution, I interpret colonial power struggles in Virginia as a local instance of global battles over sovereignty, jurisdiction, and political subordination within the heart of the unfolding project of settler colonialism. Remarkably durable and continuously shifting, the tributary system and its central ritual of exchanging payments symbolizing subordination for the promise of protection and friendship, provides a powerful lens for understanding the collision of native and English ideas of subjugation that structured colonial interactions in the region. Framing settler colonialism as a contested but unequal political relationship in which subordinated native peoples retained considerable autonomy opens an otherwise obscure era of Virginia’s Native history, in which the English and several dozen Native peoples from the Chesapeake and the Southern Piedmont forged political ties based on a language of friendship and unequal alliance. Drawing on a variety of archival sources, I follow the efforts of small Native polities, who lived in a world of constrained options, to shape the terms of their subordination. Despite numerous disruptions, the tributary system was at the core of both dispossession and resistance in Virginia well into the eighteenth century. Moreover, tributary forms of power continue to structure the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Chesapeake, the United States, and many of the world’s other settler-states. In Virginia, state-recognized tribes still pay tribute to the governor every fall. In the United States and beyond, indigenous people remain, both theoretically and legally, subordinated yet “sovereign,” or in John Marshall’s phrase, “domestic dependent nations.” By placing political allegiance and subjugation at the heart of settler colonialism, my work expands the scope of dispossession and offers a framework for thinking about contemporary Indigenous politics.
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