- Reading for Land Susan Hill's The Clay We Are Made Of:Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River
With this issue, we introduce a new occasional feature in the journal that opens up space for extended consideration of noteworthy new works. Audra Simpson contributes a close examination of how Susan Hill's prize-winning book (NAISA Best First Book, Canadian Historical Association Aboriginal History Group Book Prize, and Ontario Clio Prize, all 2018) constitutes a fieldchange intervention in Haudenosaunee and Indigenous studies. Matthew Cohen reviews Lisa Brooks's new book by way of an interview with the author about her groundbreaking methodology.Jean M. O'Brien and Robert Warrior
SUSAN HILL'S PRIZE-WINNING BOOK The Clay We Are Made Of: Haudenosaunee Land Tenure on the Grand River (2017) offers a comprehensive history of land and governance that is rare in its framing, its focus, and its execution, rendering it one of the most important studies to emerge on Haudenosaunee history to date.1 In this book Hill documents the relationships that Haudenosaunee had with lands, peoples, and waters in what is now the North American "Northeast." She moves us through the vicissitudes of the Revolutionary War, documenting Haudenosaunee movement up into the northern points of their hunting territory and their relocation and negotiations with Mississaugas at what would become Six Nations of the Grand River. On the way we run into some of the usual protagonists of Six Nations history: Joseph Brant (Thayendenaga), William Johnson, and John A. MacDonald. Brant's sister and Johnson's wife, Molly Brant, appears briefly, and one of the most chronicled Indigenous women in North America, Pauline Johnson, notably does not make an appearance. These are not ellipses or oversights, as Hill's approach is far from hagiographic; thus, there are very different players in this story. The central concern or protagonist is not a person or an event but a set of [End Page 149] ethics. The ethics of land are the central protagonists in this study, and this makes for a very different kind of history than we have been taught about Six Nations.2
These ethics of land speak through the archives that Hill works with: speeches and letters, council minutes, Indian agent correspondence, and arguments and negotiations. Through Hill's readings we see the process of treaty, of deliberation and decision making regarding property and inheritance in colonial contexts laid bare for us, and it is the burning question—the question of the contradiction between ethics and practice in the teeth of settler-colonial constraint and imperative—that orients her analysis. She asks specifically of this material, "If our relationship to the earth and to land is central why would we negotiate land sharing deals, treaties and, leases and direct sales?" (4). These negotiations over land are in seeming contradiction to Haudenosaunee philosophy and belief. We see how chiefs, clan mothers, and councils tried to maintain land and territory through policy, land tenure practice, and inheritance decisions in the face of rapid and unrelenting attempts to divest them of land and (annuity) money. Gone is the emphasis on militarism, decline and defeat, and then cultural salvage that has marked much of the literature on the Iroquois. Not only is this a sort of story different from the one we have been told, but this is also a model study of how to read archives for Indigenous history, theory, and principle.
Hill offers a robust account of the Haudenosaunee eighteenth-century alliance with the British, a relationship based on mutual recognition, on equality. This alliance with the British, however, extends the principles of the earlier seventeenth-century Kaswentha ("Two Row Wampum") Treaty between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee and transposes it onto relations with the British. But eighteenth-century Haudenosaunee not only treated with British, they maintained their relationships to others in the Confederacy and those in the shadow of the Confederacy. As such, they brought with them protectorate nations like the Nanticokes and Tutelos when they moved to what is now Ontario, but they also brought with them their obligations to people and land. Hill demonstrates how these obligations and relationships with other political orders were...