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  • A Line of Blood and Dirt: Creating the Canada-United States Border across Indigenous Lands by Benjamin Hoy
  • Patrick Lozar
A Line of Blood and Dirt: Creating the Canada-United States Border across Indigenous Lands. Benjamin Hoy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. 344, $35.00 cloth

Benjamin Hoy’s A Line of Blood and Dirt is an ambitious study of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century border between Canada and the United States. Hoy adds to the growing literature on North American border histories by providing a nearly comprehensive look at the “northern” border’s evolution on the ground. Most studies of the Canada-us border focus on certain sections of the line, which convey more localized stories. The author contends that this segmented approach causes historians to miss some of the larger, interconnected processes at work along the entire boundary line. Hoy places the continental modes of border development—drawing maps, controlling bodies, and creating an interlocking administrative apparatus—in the same frame. At the same time, all of these institutions and reactions, which were often oppositional or non-aligned, demonstrated a “chaos of control” (166) that various peoples exploited in the midst of the illusory power of the state on the periphery.

An illuminating aspect of Hoy’s study is the emphasis on stories that illustrate peoples’ lived experiences of the Canada-us border. Indigenous men and women, soldiers, fugitives, Chinese immigrants, customs officers, tourists, convicts, Irish revolutionaries, and many other characters were the migrants that the border was to both serve and police. A number of individuals and groups crossed the invisible border several dozen times in their lives with little thought about the line’s meaning to London, Ottawa, and Washington, dc. By contrast, the forty-ninth parallel represented a complicated sanctuary for some, while, for others, the border was a profound encumbrance to mobility. In some instances, [End Page 132] officials in charge of enforcing national laws lamented the futility of enforcement, while, in other situations, administrators hailed the border’s utility as a tool for catching criminals or lining one’s pockets. Such a rich tapestry of stories reveals how unequally the border’s regulations were applied to different migrants over time.

The author organizes the border’s history into three periods: infancy – from the 1770s to the 1860s; adolescence – between the 1860s and 1914; and young adulthood – between 1914 and the 1930s. This periodization charts the border’s growing physical presence alongside Great Britain, Canada, and the United States’ growing administrative capacity. Organizing the study according to the different stages of the border’s maturation, however, does not over-determine the narrative or detract from the author’s point that the border emerged unevenly. There was a good deal of stumbling and awkward growth on the way to the Canada-us border’s adulthood in the mid-twentieth century. Over this long timeline, familiar episodes in Canadian or us history are presented through the prism of the border, including Indian removal, the Fenian raids, North-West Mounted Police actions, Lakota resistance, and American Civil War strategizing. Hoy shows how these nationally exclusive events contributed to the border’s visibility.

As the book’s subtitle indicates, Hoy maintains a keen attention to the fact that empires and nation-states drew their border over the territories of many Indigenous nations. He argues too that the border played a complicated and violent role in the lives of generations of Indigenous communities – from the Haudenosaunee in the east to the Coast Salish in the west. Indigenous peoples and leaders are represented not only in major incidents such as the us-Dakota War but also as individual cross-border traders and treaty negotiators. Coast Salish people made up a significant percentage of the labour force in the western boundary surveys, while Cheyenne men assisted in tracking Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce band on their escape to Canada. In between these noted examples of Indigenous engagements with the border are the more frequent everyday migrations and enduring relationships that have been otherwise marginalized or overlooked in Canada-us border histories. At the same time, Canada and the United States used their shared border as a...