Living with Strangers: The Nineteenth-Century Sioux and the Canadian-American Borderlands

Living with Strangers: The Nineteenth-Century Sioux and the Canadian-American Borderlands

Living with Strangers: The Nineteenth-Century Sioux and the Canadian-American Borderlands

Living with Strangers: The Nineteenth-Century Sioux and the Canadian-American Borderlands

Synopsis

The story of the Sioux who moved into the Canadian-American borderlands in the later years of the nineteenth century is told in its entirety for the first time here. Previous histories have been divided by national boundaries and have focused on the famous personages involved, paying scant attention to how Native peoples on both sides of the border reacted to the arrival of the Sioux. Using material from archives across North America, Canadian and American government documents, Lakota winter counts, and oral history,Living with Strangersreveals how the nineteenth-century Sioux were a people of the borderlands. The Sioux made great tactical use of the Canada–United States boundary. They traded with the Métis of Canada- often in contraband goods such as arms and ammunition- and tried to get better prices from European traders by drawing the Hudson's Bay Company into competition with American traders. They opened negotiations with both Canadian and American officials to determine which government would accord them better treatment, and they used the boundary as a shield in times of warfare with the United States. Until now, the Canadian-American borderlands and the people who live there have remained a blind spot in Canadian and American nationalist historiographies. Living with Strangerstakes readers beyond the traditional dichotomy of the Canadian and the American West and reveals significant and previously unknown strands in Sioux history.

Excerpt

The story of Sitting Bull's sojourn in Canada unfolded before me as I sat on the floor of the McPherson Library at the University of Victoria reading the annual reports of the Canadian Department of the Interior, the ministry charged in the 1870s with the administration of Indian affairs. I was surprised. I was reasonably well versed in Western Canadian history, yet I had no knowledge of these events. How could I be unaware that Sitting Bull, one of the most famous American Indians to have ever lived, spent four years in what would later become southern Saskatchewan? I began to understand that, as an American Indian, Sitting Bull had no place in Canadian history. By researching the life of Sitting Bull and comparing what I had learned with how historians had related these events, I started to realize that the boundary separating Canada and the United States had had a profound impact on the way historians—still generally of European origin—had thought and written about aboriginal history. Stories like that of Sitting Bull and the Sioux had not been told very well.

When this project began, several years later, as my doctoral dissertation at the University of Manitoba, I set myself the task of trying to write the history of those Sioux who ventured into the area on both sides of the Forty-ninth Parallel during the nineteenth century. I would write about the Dakotas, or Eastern Sioux, who left Minnesota after the warfare of 1862 and went to Rupert's Land, and the Lakotas, or Western Sioux, who entered the North-West Territories (as Rupert's Land came to be known after it came under Canadian control) in the 1870s, having defeated Custer at the Little Bighorn. To understand this history, I would also have to take account of the Yanktons and Yanktonais. But foremost I wanted to learn how the Sioux—not just in wartime, but in peacetime as well— had come to understand the boundary and to use it for their own purposes.

I discovered while I researched and wrote that the boundary, and how it had partitioned academics, had created several problems that I now faced. Would readers steeped in the history of one country know as much about the other?

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