The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889-1920

The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889-1920

The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889-1920

The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889-1920

Synopsis

"Under the guise of assimilation, U.S. government policies destroyed Anishinaabe adaptations and brought them increased poverty, disease, and diaspora", writes Melissa L. Meyer. Combining historical methods with approaches drawn from sociology, anthropology, and economics, and using a wide range of previously untapped sources, she examines in exacting detail the course of events leading to that conclusion. Rather than focusing on Indian-white relations alone, she views the matter in terms of relationships between the conservative Anishinaabe hands and their mediator "cousins", analogous culturally to the Canadian metis, to produce a study that is as compelling for its design as for its content.

Excerpt

To say that American Indians have not been integrated into American history is a profound understatement. Many standard textbooks explain the conquest and subordination of American Indians as a result of the inability of their primitive cultures to withstand the onslaught of civilization and modernization: just as wolves, bears, cougars, and other denizens of the forest lost their place to European settlers, so Indian people were doomed to fade before the advance of superior technology and democratic institutions. Equally debilitating is the romantic stereotype that casts Indian people as doing nothing more than acting in worshipful harmony with nature. Scholars have used simplistic brush strokes to paint life before European contact as the Eden of the Western Hemisphere. They explain subsequent interaction as a dualistic struggle between Western civilization and a world as yet untainted by industrial capitalism. The structure of this narrative tells us more about how Euroamerican intellectuals regard their own history than it does about American Indian experiences.

Certainly, some elements of this story line are inescapable. European nations did expand across the Atlantic, setting in motion processes that no indigenous group has been able to avoid. But the trajectory of history is not unilinear. The fortunes of specific groups may be plotted as stairways or roller coasters rather than continuous downward spirals. Although specialists in Indian history have made great strides in representing the diversity of Indian cultures and their many creative adaptations, the mainstream has remained stubbornly impervious to their insights. Indians are still portrayed as so weighted by a "traditional" ball and chain as to be unable to respond to their changing world at all, much less to devise their own solutions to the problems they faced. Most pervasive is . . .

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