- Borderlands, Indigenous Homelands, and North American Settler Colonialism
Both of these books tell histories of peoples whose nineteenth-century homelands fell within the "northern borderlands" surrounding the U.S–Canadian border. And each, in different ways, evokes the struggles of indigenous peoples who attempted to retain their homelands, as settlers and government agents sought to dispossess and expel them. John Bowes' wonderful study of Northern Indian removal encompasses the borderlands of the Great Lakes, but it ultimately tells a (mostly) U.S.–focused history that challenges the customary narrative of Indian removal. Generally such narratives are dominated by the Indian Removal Act and the experiences of the Cherokees. Michel Hogue, in contrast, focuses more directly on the politics of the U.S.–Canadian border, masterfully recreating the world of the early nineteenth-century Northern Plains where the Plains Metis emerged and thrived, only to be excluded during the later nineteenth century by U.S. and Canadian settler regimes. As well as making substantive contributions to North American historiography, these works also contribute to the movement among North American scholars to incorporate theories of "settler colonialism." So while they tell the histories of different peoples, they both frame their narratives with an eye to the more widespread, longer-term dynamics through which North American indigenous homelands became the territories of the United States and Canada.
Taking on the long-overdue task of exploring Northern Indian removal, Bowes' Land Too Good for Indians makes an extremely important contribution to American historiography. As in the better-known stories of their Southeastern contemporaries, Indian peoples north of the Ohio River also found themselves marked for "removal" west of the Mississippi. Yet, as Bowes [End Page 416] notes, it is the anti-removal struggles of the Southeastern peoples—and the Cherokees in particular—that feature in leading histories on removal, exemplified by the work of scholars such as Theda Perdue, Michael Green, and Tiya Miles.1 Whereas these narratives have made it into U.S. history textbooks, the experiences of peoples in the North generally receive only a brief cameo in the form of the 1832 Black Hawk War. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that Bowes' book is the first comprehensive removal-focused history of the Old Northwest since Grant Foreman's Last Trek of the Indians (1946). But Land Too Good for Indians does more than simply add a new regional geography to our current understandings of the removal era. Bowes argues that, in order to more fully understand the dynamics of Indian removal, we must go beyond portraying the Indian Removal Act "as a watershed historical event" (p. 7) and instead see it as just "one piece of a larger process" (p. 12). He attributes such conceptual insights to theories of settler colonialism that have become increasingly applied in the North American context by scholars such as Gary Anderson.2 Building on such work, Bowes frames the expropriation of Native homelands during the removal era as "a powerful illustration" (p. 12) of the much-longer history of dispossession that has structured relations between American Indians and the United States.
Bowes employs these theoretical insights with a deft hand, exploring how colonialist power structures manifested in specific contexts. This attention to context is reflected in the book's structure. Instead of presenting an all-encompassing "single narrative arc" (p. 6), Bowes introduces the work as a series of case studies that "illustrate the specific facets of a diverse and complex history" (p. 17). In seven succinct and lucid chapters he manages to cover the interrelated histories of various Northern peoples, including groups of Miamis, Delawares (Lenapes), Wyandots, Senecas, Shawnees, Potawatomis, Ojibwes, and Odawas.
The first chapter gives an excellent road map into the political culture of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Great Lakes region. Beginning with the years of the...