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  • Irish and Scottish Encounters with Indigenous Peoples: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia ed. by Graeme Morton and David A. Wilson
  • James E. Doan
Irish and Scottish Encounters with Indigenous Peoples: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, ed. Graeme Morton and David A. Wilson. pp. 389. Montreal: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2013. $34.95 (paper), $100 (cloth).

This collection of fifteen essays in the developing field of Irish and Scottish diaspora studies focuses on the relations between emigrants and indigenous peoples in North America, New Zealand, and Australia. The introduction, by David A. Wilson, asks a number of pertinent questions—among them, whether the conditions of the Irish and Scottish settlers, such as their own colonial status, affected their response to the native peoples they encountered, and to what extent did the religious identities of the settlers (e.g., Ulster Scot Presbyterian, or Irish Catholic) influence their sense of kinship with native peoples, or not? The individual essays often provide evidence that challenges a reader’s pre-existing assumptions concerning these issues.

Donald H. Akenson’s “The Great European Migration and Indigenous Populations,” provides an overview of migration from Europe to the Western hemisphere [End Page 148] during the century from 1815 to 1914, during which some 55 to 60 million Europeans departed. Contrary to the romanticized view that this represented an outpouring of people from land-hungry and overcrowded societies, he points out that this was “the greatest single period of land theft, cultural pillage, and casual genocide in world history.” To give one example, though the estimate for numbers of indigenous peoples in both Americas at the time of European contact in 1492 varies from eight million to more than 100 million, in 1976 William Denevan calculated the figure to be some 4.23 million in what became the contiguous United States. The earliest even fairly reliable figure, from the 1850 United States census, is that by mid-ninettenth century the number had been reduced to 401,000. In 1900 the native population had reached a nadir of 237,000. Akenson suggests that those who had been subject to exploitation and abuse in Europe were as much a part of the colonialist and imperialist project as the capitalist entrepreneurs who directly profited from European expansion: “both the Scots and the Irish migrants to the various New Worlds did very well for themselves, and in part this was because they participated in a system that, at best, was gargantuan theft—and, at worst, genocide.”

Two essays, Pádraig Ó Siadhail’s “James Mooney (1861–1921): The ‘Indian Man’ and the ‘Irish Catholic’” and John Eastlake’s “Jeremiah and Alma Curtin’s Indian Journeys,” provide helpful bookends for Mooney’s and Jeremiah Curtin’s differing responses to Native American societies, including folklore and mythology. Both writers question the assumption that these early folklorists found a natural affinity with the Indians based on their own Irish Catholic backgrounds, though we do see occasional gleanings of this. For example, in his obituary of Washington Matthews, an Irish-born scholar interested in Native American societies, Mooney wrote, “By a faculty of mingled sympathy and command he won the confidence of the Indian and the knowledge of his secrets, while by virtue of that spiritual vision which was his Keltic inheritance, he was able to look into the soul of primitive things and interpret their meaning as few others have done.”

Cian T. McMahon, in “Transnational Dimensions of Irish Anti-Imperialism, 1842–54,” suggests that such Young Irelanders as Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy linked their own plight with a worldwide struggle against British imperialism. The Sydney-based Freeman’s Journal, for example, indicated that the dispossession of Australian Aborigines could only be justified if accompanied by “fair and proportionate compensation.” Other Young Ireland exiles, though, such as William Smith O’Brien viewed Aborigines as “barbarians” who had no right to monopolize the land. Anne McGrath fine-tunes some of these views in her essay, “Shamrock Aborigines: The Irish, The Aboriginal Australians, and Their Children.” She posits that Irish Australian history has often airbrushed out the frequently violent reaction of the Irish colonizers to the Aborigines. The...