An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America

An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America

An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America

An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America


An Infinity of Nations explores the formation and development of a Native New World in North America. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, indigenous peoples controlled the vast majority of the continent while European colonies of the Atlantic World were largely confined to the eastern seaboard. To be sure, Native North America experienced far-reaching and radical change following contact with the peoples, things, and ideas that flowed inland following the creation of European colonies on North American soil. Most of the continent's indigenous peoples, however, were not conquered, assimilated, or even socially incorporated into the settlements and political regimes of this Atlantic New World. Instead, Native peoples forged a New World of their own. This history, the evolution of a distinctly Native New World, is a foundational story that remains largely untold in histories of early America.

Through imaginative use of both Native language and European documents, historian Michael Witgen recreates the world of the indigenous peoples who ruled the western interior of North America. The Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples of the Great Lakes and Northern Great Plains dominated the politics and political economy of these interconnected regions, which were pivotal to the fur trade and the emergent world economy. Moving between cycles of alliance and competition, and between peace and violence, the Anishinaabeg and Dakota carved out a place for Native peoples in modern North America, ensuring not only that they would survive as independent and distinct Native peoples but also that they would be a part of the new community of nations who made the New World.


Eshkibagikoonzhe felt anger, betrayal, and a deep sense of disappointment. He sat behind a table in his home at Gaazagaskwaajimekaag (Leech Lake), an immense lake with nearly two hundred miles of shoreline. Five medals, several war clubs, tomahawks, spears, all splashed with red paint, lay on the table before him. Eshkibagikoonzhe painted his face black for this council session. the Bwaanag (Dakota) had recently killed his son and he mourned his loss. All of the people, the Anishinaabeg (Ojibweg), felt the pain of this death, the loss of a future leader. Eshkibagikoonzhe summoned the man he held responsible for his son’s death to join him at council in his home. Now he waited.

The man he waited for came from a new power that had risen in the east. It had been a little over three decades since Eshkibagikoonzhe (Bird with the Leaf-Green Bill) began to hear about this new people. They were called Gichimookomaanag (the Long Knives/Americans), and they had a reputation as ruthless killers with a hunger for Native land. the Long Knives had been part of the Zhaaganaashag (British), but they shape-shifted, and now the Gichimookomaanag and the Zhaaganaashag formed two rival peoples.

The new people, the Gichi-mookomaanag, began to travel into Anishinaabewaki, the lands of the Anishinaabeg. Shortly after they had separated from the Zhaaganaashag, a young warrior from the Gichi-mookomaanag named Zebulon Pike visited Eshkibagikoonzhe at Gaazaskwaajimekaag. the young man came to find the source of the Gichi-ziibi (Mississippi), the massive river that flowed from the heartland of the continent all the way to its southern shore. He also wanted to establish a relationship between his people and the Anishinaabeg in this region. He sat at council with Eshkibagikoonzhe and gave him a Gichi-mookomaanag flag. Shortly after Pike’s visit, a few of the Long Knives managed to insert themselves into the fur trade that was . . .

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