- IntroductionReframing and Reclaiming Indigenous Midwests
Like the pictograph we feature on our cover, which speaks to ties among peoples and places in the region, this special issue of the Middle West Review explores a diverse range of Indigenous experiences in a variety of locations in what has come to be known as the American Midwest. “The Midwest,” however, is not an Indigenous marker of place, but rather a US spatial category that is defined, in part, by the national project of replacing Indigenous societies. Framing Indigenous peoples within this geographical construct, then, opens a discursive space for grappling with the issues of settler colonialism that lie at the heart of this collection of essays.
An Indigenous sense of place, by contrast, is expressed in the cover image of an Ojibwe pictographic petition, copied by artist Seth Eastman. The birch bark original was carried by a delegation of Lake Superior Ojibwe leaders to Washington, dc, in 1849. The delegation traveled from Wisconsin to the US capital to formally request that Congress and the president guarantee their right to remain permanently in their Wisconsin homelands. Each of the animal figures—the catfish, the man-fish, the bear, the three martens, and the crane—represents the Ojibwe clans to which members of the delegation belonged. The lines connecting the hearts of the other animals to the heart of the crane signify the clans’ unity, while the lines connecting their eyes to the crane’s eye indicate that the representative of the Crane Clan is leading the delegation. The pictograph also illustrates the strong connection between the Ojibwe people and Lake Superior as well as the wild rice lakes. The petition’s depiction of an Indigenous geopolitical reality helps to destabilize monolithic notions of the American [End Page vii] Midwest by illustrating how one Native people visualized their relationship to their homelands.
Rebecca Kugel’s essay, the first in the issue, centers on earlier Native efforts to retain territory, in this case in Ohio following the Treaty of the Maumee Rapids (1817). Kugel notes that following the treaty’s obliteration of Indigenous title to the land, many Delawares, Odawas, Senecas, Shawnees, and Wyandots reserved individually owned tracts. These actions guaranteed, as Kugel demonstrates, that “[t]housands of acres would remain in Native hands and several thousand Native people would remain in Ohio after the state had ostensibly alienated nearly all Native title and paved the way for the removal of its now largely landless Indigenous inhabitants.”
Theodore J. Karamanski proves the urgent need for such land retention strategies by examining the effects of a timber boom in Michigan, where “[t]he value to come out of Michigan’s deep woods alone far outstripped the value to come from California gold mines between 1849 and 1900.” As Karamanski shows, “European Americans, who sought to appropriate the wealth of the Upper Midwest’s vast stands of hardwood and pine forests, only seldom needed to resort to guns to take control of the land.” Rather than wage “a war of conquest,” he says, settlers “entangled Anishinaabeg property owners in a bewildering legal and extralegal thicket that facilitated the plunder of the region’s most marketable resource.”
It was in a similarly contested environment that the Revels Family, the subject of Jennifer Kirsten Stinson’s essay, first made their home in Wisconsin, in the mid-nineteenth century, arriving from the US Southeast. “In Robeson County, North Carolina, an important Revels kindred community of origin,” Stinson indicates, “Indigenous, European, and African diasporic peoples forged an overarching Indian identity.” In Wisconsin, however, at different moments they were either labeled or self-identified as black, white, mulatto, colored, Cherokee, or Indian. These shifts reflected the rigidity of racial categories during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The next three essays take up questions of historical memory. Deborah Edwards-Anderson tracks Native people’s commemoration of the US-Dakota War of 1862 and the resulting Dakota exile and mass execution in Mankato, Minnesota. She observes that because hostility toward Dakota people in Minnesota persisted into the twentieth century, “[n]ot surprisingly, the first documented public commemoration by Dakota people of the US...