In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BookReviews 157 Jean M. O'Brien. Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. xii + 224. Jean O'Brien's primary objective in this work is to illustrate how native refugees, after fleeing British colonial expansion into their original territories, were able to resist cultural erasure at the "praying town" of Natick, Massachusetts . Their survival, she argues, resulted from their selective exercise of the economic, social, and legal modes of the colonizers and more importantly through a relation to place that resisted the commodification of land. O'Brien is particularly interested in the significance of land in English and native cosmologies, its relation to identity and existence, and the effect it had on both the persistence of "Indianness" and the assertion ofEnglish political and economic control. In contrast to narratives of extinction offered by colonists, and accepted more or less uncritically by many recent commentators, O'Brien illustrates a diverse and persistent array of resistance strategies and lineage endurance. Through her investigation of land, probate, and vital records and documents related to commonwealth political affairs she is able to link together sufficient data to trace the life histories and genealogies of several families and to provide an explanation regarding the changing social relations of the community. She concludes that the life ways of a people can be transformed without their identity necessarily being subsumed or eradicated. Native people at Natick, "retained their 'Indianness' within the extraordinary constraints posed by English colonialism" (9). Within the fairly narrow geographic and theoretical limits that O'Brien has set for herself, she provides a significant array of evidence to support her primary arguments. Certainly anyone who has attempted to construct any aspect of the native-newcomer encounter anywhere in the world can empathize with her frustration with sources that are both fragmentary and one-sided. Like others, she is forced to "listen for Indian voices in documents that had been produced for other purposes" (127). Although in O'Brien's case this practice is followed perhaps a little too unproblematically and unselfconsci ously. She manages, however, to successfully navigate a course, unfortunately still far too uncommon among accounts of colonial encounters, that neither disparagingly or romantically portrays the colonizer or the colonized as homogenous masses. O'Brien identifies, for example, individual action and the "conflicting agendas" of various Indian families. Yet at the same time she 158 Canadian Review of American Studies Reuue canadienne cletudes americaines avoids colluding with the perspective, commonly associated with liberalism in the West, that embraces diversity only to camouflage imbalances in the application of power. She repeatedly argues that individualization was at the heart of the English proprietary system and English perceptions of the colonial encounter. Its ascendancy as the dominant paradigm within which to measure ownership, worth, and identity caused significant structural compromise in the eighteenth-century native community at Natick and paved the way for Euro-American alienation of native lands. O'Brien concludes, though, that while "English chicanery plays its part in this story, English displacement of Indians within the bounded place called Natick occurred principally through the excruciating workings of business as usual" (8-9). For her, displacement was the result of a functioning market economy. It must be stated here that while O'Brien admits to being frustrated by the impossibility of using demographic methodology in this case, she is apparently reluctant to stray very far from a fairly conservative empirical approach or to engage with the problems and arguments raised by authors more closely associated with the theoretical turns in history, anthropology, geography, and allied fields. Obviously, she cannot be criticized for her decisions in this regard, but some readers may be disappointed that there is little attempt to problematize, expand, or to situate many of her most interesting suggestions within this growing literature. Some will undoubtedly be intrigued by her observations regarding the contours of resistance and cultural negotiation; the ways in which gendered notions of order and industry were manifested in the spatial construction of the town; the use of English words for lands used in English ways and for English units of measurement, which seems to reflect culturally specific notions of utility...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 157-159
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.