Contested Futures: Anishinaabeg and American Societies in the Great Lakes, 1790-1840
Following the War of 1812, American intrusion into the Great Lakes intensified, leading to conflict with Anishinaabeg peoples who lived there. The two societies upheld mutually exclusive conceptions of human relationships to the land which sustained them. Coming from a capitalist society, American traders and government officials sought to commodify nature, and to turn Native peoples into individual American farmers who owned bounded private property. But Anishinaabe culture prioritized kinship, and anchored social identity in the land of their ancestors. Long accustomed to trading with capitalist fur traders, the Anishinaabeg rejected American capitalists’ desire to own Anishinaabeg land. In response to American pressures, the Anishinaabeg adopted two new strategies to secure a sovereign future. Some embraced nativist religious revivals, and concealed from Americans the Native knowledge that capitalists needed to commodify Native lands. Others sought to sell their land, timber rights, and other resources directly to individual white settlers, bypassing the American federal government-enabling sellers to get more money and preserve ownership of more land. In my paper, I frame this conflict through the lives of two men: John Tanner, an Anishinaabe hunter by adoption, and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an American Indian Agent and ethnographer who studied the Anishinaabeg. Conflicts over land and knowledge culminated in a conflict of narratives about the Anishinaabeg’s future-and Henry Schoolcraft and John Tanner advanced competing visions. Schoolcraft believed that Americans offered Indians a gift: Christianity and civilization, which would eradicate indigenous cultures. Tanner argued that Americans brought suffering to the Anishinaabeg, whose culture Tanner valued as superior to Americans’ selfish individualism. Their conflict would reach a deadly end in their mutual home of Sault Ste. Marie.
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