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  • North Country: The Making of Minnesota by Mary Lethert Wingerd
  • Neil McKay
Mary Lethert Wingerd . North Country: The Making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. 248 pp. Cloth, $34.95.

In North Country: The Making of Minnesota, Mary Lethert Wingerd has written a highly detailed account about how Mnisota Makoce (which in Dakota can mean "Land Where the Waters Reflect the Skies") became a territory and then a state. The format is chronological, from the early 1600s, with the fur trade, the struggle for power over the fur trade, and the struggle for territories and land. She moves on to the wars fought, including the smallpox epidemic and the coming of Christianity. From there, a large part of the book deals with how a very young United States came into power and shaped Minnesota with treaties, free market capitalism, which moved trading on the land to development and invasion, and bad Indian relations, moving on to the period just after the creation of Minnesota as a state in 1858 and going into the US-Dakota War of 1862 and its aftermath.

She starts with the two first Europeans who came to the Minnesota area, Frenchmen Radisson and Groseilliers, and how they met the Dakota. From there, her detailed historical account of the fur trade both in and out of Minnesota tells the story of how the Ojibwe and Dakota would become dependent on the trading system. They would work with [End Page 278] primarily the French, British, mixed bloods, other indigenous nations, and later Americans. This makes sense, because even before the invasion of European American settlers into the area of Minnesota, the trading industry had already started to deplete resources that the Dakota and Ojibwe needed to remain as self-sustaining nations.

Along with the European and European American perspectives on the fur trade, she articulates well the indigenous perspective on trading. England, France, and America tried to get indigenous people to buy into the trade as a means to become wealthy from a Western perspective. This was challenging for the European/European American mind, and they even saw it as problematic that Native people did not want to become individually wealthy: "The root of the problem . . . was the collective ethos that neither recognized private property nor rewarded accumulation of surplus" (108). Wingerd also writes: "Accumulation of goods conveyed no accompanying status. Instead individuals gained stature through generosity rather than acquisition. By material standards, chiefs were often among the poorest men in the village" (58). These differences still apply today.

During the fur trade, Britain, France, and, later, a very young United States all competed and fought for land that did not belong to them. Their conduct, though, says they really did think in a manner that suggests they knew better than the Native people. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803, where the United States purchased a large chunk of land from France, is one well-known example of how two "civilized" nations conducted business in the form of a real estate transaction, disregarding the millions of Native people that already lived on the land. The power play between the United States, England, and France is not set in a positive light because of how it affected indigenous nations in present-day Canada and the United States. The perspective on indigenous people as sovereign nations that were to be respected and treated as equals and how that changed to those same nations becoming subordinate subjects/citizens, even a "problem" and obstacle to wealth and resources, started very early on and is clearly laid out.

Religion is another area Wingerd details well. The Catholics had set up shop amongst the indigenous nations and traders long before any Protestants had come into the Minnesota area. The Catholics had actually worked hard to create what Wingerd calls "hybrids." Catholicism is well known for its long history in which it allows the local people [End Page 279] to blend their spiritual ways with what is Catholic, thereby creating a church that is Catholic but that the people and their ways are part of. When the Protestants arrived, they brought with them the age-old rivalry they had with the Catholics...


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pp. 278-280
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