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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revue amadienne d'etudes amencmnes Volume 26, Number 1, Winter 1996, pp. 137-145 Native American History: Problems of Success Bruce G. Trigger 137 Matthew Dennis. Cultiuating a Landscape of Peace: Iroquois-European Encounters in Seventeenth-Century America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. Pp. xii + 280. Ian K. Steele. Warpaths: Invasions of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. xiv + 282. What is variously called Native American history, aboriginal history, or now, with increasing reluctance (because the term is rightly viewed as ethnocentric ), ethnohistory constitutes the oldest and most highly developed of the minority histories that have transformed the practice of history in recent decades. While the study of Native American history began mainly in anthropology in the late 1930s, it has been taken up by growing numbers of historians and geographers who have brought their own important skills and insights to this enterprise. This research has not only shed light on facets of North American history that were hitherto ignored, but has also demonstrated that native peoples were effective and resourceful participants in shaping that history. This, in turn, has vastly and irreversibly transformed the traditional Euro-American understanding of the role played by European colonists . Indian history is now recognized as essential for understanding the general course of North American history into modern times. It has even been argued that its most important achievement to date has not been what Euro-American scholars have found out about Native American behaviour, but its revealing of some of the profound biases and misunderstandings that 138 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue amadtenne d'etudes amencaines have coloured non-native perceptions of native people and helped to shape Euro-American policies toward them (Trigger 1986). Ethnohistorical studies have grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years. Highly professional archival research is combined with the ever more careful use of ethnographic and linguistic data to provide insights that challenge widely accepted beliefs about the past. One of the most successful monographs based on archival research is Sarah Carter's Lost Han,ests (1990), which demonstrated that the failure of Canadian Plains Indians to adopt agriculture between 1874 and 1885 was the result of coercive government policies and not, as the Department of Indian Affairs continued to claim, of Indian unwillingness to work hard and learn a new way of life. John Steckley's (1992) intensive study of long neglected religious texts composed in the Huron language by seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries is revealing for the first time precisely how European religious concepts were presented to the Hurons. Through a combination of historical, anthropological , and linguistic approaches, great success is being had in gaining a detailed and often unanticipated understanding of specific aspects of how native people have interacted with Europeans over the past five centuries. Ethnohistorians disagree, however, about many issues. Some of these concern the extent to which early religious conversions by native people were genuine or feigned and, if they were genuine, the degree to which the meaning of Christianity had been perceived in European terms or largely encoded into native patterns of belief (Axtell 1985; Blanchard 1982; Sahlins 1995). None of the controversies relating to North America has achieved the distinction that is accorded to Gananath Obeyesekere (1992) and Marshall Sahlin's (1995) debate about the extent to which practical reason or cultural preconceptions determined Hawaiian interpretations of the eighteenthcentury British explorer James Cook. In general, theoretical issues loom larger as the level of synthesis increases and the use of facts becomes more selective. In this review, I will consider the problems inherent in two such works of synthesis. One of these is explicitly guided by a postmodern perspective , the other seeks to incorporate ethnohistorical findings into a more conventional historical framework. The postmodern work is Matthew Dennis's Cultivating a Landscape ol Peace, which he characterizes as a contribution to the new cultural history. Bruce G. TriggerI 139 In this revised version of his doctoral thesis, which was awarded a New York State Historical Association Manuscript Award in 1987, Dennis seeks to elucidate how the Five Nations Iroquois, Dutch, and French each understood differently the nature and meaning of life and to analyse the...


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