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French and Indians in the Heart of North America, 1630–1815 is about “trying to capture the complexity and nuance of French-Indian relations in the heart of North America” that “did not focus specifically on métissage and mixed-descent peoples” (p. xix). The papers that compose the collection are drawn from a 2008 annual meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society as well as solicited contributions. Together, the papers by Kathryn Magee Labelle, Christopher M. Parsons, Robert Michael Morrissey, Richard Weyhing, Gilles Havard, Arnaud Balvay, John Reda, and Nicole St-Onge capture the complexity of French motives and relations among indigenous peoples. While the focus is more on the French side of the relationship, the contributors move the intellectual study of the complexity of the interior [End Page 111] beyond Richard White’s The Middle Ground (1991) and notions of métissage represented by Jacquline Peterson’s ground-breaking work on the Great Lakes Metis, “Prelude to Red River” (1978).
By focusing on French activities in the heart of North America, the contributors marvelously contest many common misconceptions within the literature. The authors capture the complexity of the relations between the French and the Indians by looking at diplomatic relations, transatlantic ties, and French activities after 1763. For instance, Labelle’s essay, “The Wendat Feast of the Souls, 1636,” illustrates how French and Jesuit intransigence concerning the burying of French-Catholic dead with “Pagan” Huron dead negatively affected the French-Wendat alliance. Similarly, “The Terms of the Encounter” by Robert M. Morrissey, “‘Protection’ and ‘Unequal’ Alliance” by Gilles Havard, and “The French and the Natchez” by Arnaud Balvay illustrate that French relationships and diplomacy among the various First Nations was not perfect and depended as much for success or failure upon misunderstandings, understandings, and creative fictions. Havard’s contribution nicely shows that the French accepted some level of aboriginal sovereignty while denying them outright French citizenship. This dual status as “Protected” and “Sovereign,” while not addressed by Havard, is a key component of the British Royal Proclamation of 1763—leaving one wondering how much influence French proclamations had on British proclamations regarding Indians. Balvay’s essay is a welcome work for its efforts to show how the French presence and polices not only affected internal political relations within the Natchez but how this nation responded. Simply, it contributes to the growing number of works that dispel a long-cherished belief that the French were better at Indian relations than the English. Likewise, Morrissey’s piece neatly shows the contrasting ideas of frenchification held by the Jesuits and other Catholic religious orders as well as how these differences affected mission work. The “Contested Visions of French Colonization” boiled down to the Jesuit idea of creating an “Indigenous Catholicism” versus assimilating the Indians into settled French Christians. Christopher [End Page 112] M. Parson’s “Natives, Newcomers, and Nicotiana” nicely returns tobacco to center stage of the encounter. John Reda’s piece, “From Subjects to Citizens,” traces how and why two Pierres served expanding empires while maintaining good relations with the First Nations, thereby mitigating the effects of empire—it was about business and securing a place in the new world order. Finally, Nicole St-Onge’s social history of Canadian voyageurs’ spending habits on the Astorian overland expedition serves to highlight the differences in habit, life goals, and residency decisions of men recruited from Montreal versus the Great Lakes. As a whole, the contributors shed a wondrous light upon French and Indian relations that is both original and inspiring.
I have only two issues with the collection—first, the editors’ overall failure to properly capitalize synonyms for “Indian” in the various articles; secondly, the volume lacks an index. These quibbles do not detract from the overall quality of the authors’ work or the usefulness of the volume for scholars and others interested in French-Indian relations.
Karl S. Hele teaches First Peoples studies at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. He...