- Indigenous Adaptations to Settler Colonialism
During the half-century following independence from Great Britain, the United States engaged in a massive ethnic cleansing project, expelling dozens of Indigenous nations from lands east of the Mississippi River. In modern popular culture, the best-known episode of Native ethnic cleansing is the Cherokee nation's brutal experience, dubbed The Trail of Tears. To a lesser extent, mainstream discourses recognize that the Cherokee expulsion was also part of a larger story in which the so-called Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokees, Choctaws, Chicaksaws, Muscogees [Creeks], and Seminoles) were forcibly removed from the South. However, almost entirely unknown to most people is the widespread ethnic cleansing and land loss suffered by Indigenous nations of the modern Midwest, a process that began almost immediately after the Revolution and continued for several decades thereafter. In an era when the total U.S. population was less than five percent of what it is today, tens of thousands of Indigenous people were shipped west of the Mississippi. Some nations endured numerous moves before often ending up in what was once known as Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). In [End Page 151] all, the post-revolutionary ethnic cleansings rank among the great atrocities of modern human history.1
Yet the colonial project was (and is) far from absolute, and at times not even coherent. North and South, some Indigenous peoples were able to avoid forced removals while maintaining their national and ethnic identities, typically by retreating to distant, isolated reaches, or by agreeing to accept greatly reduced reservations on lands that Americans considered marginal. Just as rump Cherokee and Seminole nations remained in the mountains of western North Carolina and the wetlands of southern Florida respectively, a number of midwestern peoples were able to claim homelands in the northern Great Lakes and prairie. That some of those people, such as the Oneidas of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) League in New York, were themselves recently displaced from more easterly lands, only speaks to how thoroughly colonial dispossession is woven into the whole of the United States.
Those Native peoples who were able to remain behind in the Midwest have done so either without reservations or with reservations that are generally much smaller than their Western counterparts. They have also done so while maintaining smaller populations amid a more thorough pattern of colonizer settlement. And so during the past 200 years, Indigenous midwesterners have often had to develop somewhat different tactics and strategies for resistance, survival, and adaptation than have some of the Native peoples across the Missouri River. Native nations of the Midwest have countered ongoing colonial pressures through political and economic struggles, and cultural and social adaptations, in a long, multifaceted equation that Ojibwe scholar Gerald Vizenor (Anishinaabe from Minnesota's White Earth Reservation) has termed "survivance."2 Vizenor's work is not only foundational, but also illustrates that a firm historical understanding cannot come from historians alone. A more interdisciplinary approach grounded in Native American and Indigenous Studies is required to provide theoretical underpinning, and to unpack the cultural social nuances of the long colonial process. Anthropologists, sociologists, legal theorists, and interdisciplinary scholars produce scholarship that broadens our understanding not only of settler colonialism's centuries-long effort at Indigenous erasure, but also of Indigenous people's various forms of resistance and adaptive strategies.3
Anthropologist Grant Arndt is directly influenced by Vizenor's work, which stresses not the threadbare desperation of mere physical survival, but rather the complexities of ongoing struggle that reject facile notions of [End Page 152] tragedy, subordination, stasis, and victimology. To that end, Arndt critiques an earlier generation of scholarship that blithely dismissed traditions by...