No Princess Zone: Hanging Cloud, the Ogichidaakwe

Chequamegon History

Here is an interesting story I’ve run across a few times.  Don’t consider this exhaustive research on the subject, but it’s something I thought was worth putting on here.

On Wikipedia, Charles Lippert spells her name as Aazhawigiizhigokwe and translates it literally as “Goes across the sky woman.” I know a lot of people are freaked out by the whole concept of Wikipedia because any fool can put whatever he wants on it. Me, I look at 95% of the internet that way (including this site). The important thing is the quality of the information. Lippert works for the Mille Lacs band with first-language Ojibwe speakers and has contributed to several on and offline published works.  I find his transliterations to be solid.

In late 1854 and 1855, the talk of northern Wisconsin was a young woman from from the Chippewa River around Rice Lake. Her name was Ah-shaw-way-gee-she-go-qua…

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Where do you “find” indigenous history?

First of all, welcome, to the rather overwhelming number of new people who have made their way to this blog in the past few days. I know there are a lot of people commenting that Native American history gets the treatment it does because of lack of writing and use of oral hisory, so I wanted to address: where does knowledge of indigenous history come from? How is it that “we” (multiple we‘s really: academia, laypeople, Natives, non-Natives…) know things about indigenous history? The difficulty, of course, being that the history of the Americas has been on an institutional level told with the voices of Europeans and their descendants as the protagonists, with indigenous people only included marginally as necessary to tell the European-American story.

The major sources of indigenous history are

  • oral histories of indigenous people themselves
  • written records kept by non-Natives and Natives
  • archaeological data

Each of these has its own merits and challenges and each plays a different part in telling indigenous histories.

Archaeological data

Archaeology is key to indigenous history before about 1500, since before then there are very few written records and oral history tends to be less detailed the further back you go. You find a site, do some careful digging, record everything you find, and draw some conclusions. And then you have century-long debates over how to best interpret the things you found.

There are a couple of difficulties with using archaeological data for writing indigenous history. The data you get is not what people think of when they think of history–it’s generally a lot of burials, foundations of old houses, and a truly astounding amount of pottery shards. And you examine the stuff found in different places and over time and try to draw conclusions about what happened. Which is difficult, for many reasons. First of all, archaeological “cultures” (groupings of similar artifacts) don’t necessarily match up with linguistic, ethnic, or national cultures. And even with archaeological cultures, there’s often a lot of debate about whether the culture is a correct interpretation, because ultimately it comes down to archaeologists looking at the data and interpreting it, which different people might do differently, and it’s inherently tied to assumptions people have about the past. For instance, it was previously taken for granted that the mounds of Mississippian and Hopewell people couldn’t possibly have been made by indigenous people, just because of the assumptions white people had about Native Americans.

Archaeology in North America also has a rather rocky history with indigenous people themselves. It has historically been closely linked to the theft of indigenous property and the desecration of indigenous bones, and archaeologists have often worked in complete isolation from actual living Native people, not considering the fact that it was their ancestors they were digging up. Happily there has been an increase in recent years of archaeologists working in collaboration with Native people–the Art Institute’s book Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand on pre-contact eastern woodlands people, for example, included work by a number of people descended from Mississippian and Hopewell people and showed how living elders were collaborating with archaeologists and art historians to get a better understanding of artifacts.

The fact is that there’s an enormous amount of material in North America that has not been excavated yet, but there’s also quite a bit that has been done. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned since coming to college, it’s mostly kept in university libraries and written in language that no one but a specialist can understand. So although there’s a wealth of information, it largely hasn’t been disseminated into the population at large, and certainly is very difficult for indigenous people themselves to get a hold of–to the extent that many people don’t even realize it exists. One of my major goals is trying to get some of this archaeological knowledge out and available to the indigenous people whose history it is a part of, so we can take some control over our own histories.

Written records

This is what people think of when they think of history. (Especially books). The majority of historical information in existence on Native people comes from sources written by non-Native people. These records include journals, poems, letters, reports, and more. There’s sometimes a tendency to think of written records as being more “objective” than other kinds of evidence, but most historians would tell you that there’s all kinds of factors you have to consider when you’re looking at a written source: who wrote the document? Why did they write it? Who were they writing for? The background of the creator, the social milieu, their agenda for writing… All of this is especially important when you’re looking at sources written by people about indigenous cultures who are not actually from that culture. If you’re looking to write history from an indigenous perspective like I am, these records are essential because they provide flashes of indigenous people from particular instances of time, but a lot of care has to be taken in coming to understand the indigenous side of the records.

There are also written records made by indigenous people themselves. These go back into precolumbian times in records like the screenfold codices of Mesoamerican people, as well as other kinds of sources that some academics don’t like to call “writing” but are clearly at least writing-like records of history, such as the birch bark scrolls made by Anishinaabe people and other Algonquian speaking people in the northeast. There’s also a plethora of sources written by Native people after the arrival of Europeans, in colonial languages as well as indigenous ones. There’s too much to even start to list, and it’s all depressingly ignored by a lot of people–but the fact is that Native people started writing down their stories in the Roman alphabet practically as soon as they were introduced to it, and these sources continue to today. They too have to be carefully examined–certainly the kind of Native people who had access to the resources for writing needs to be looked at (for instance, many early records come from Native converts to Christianity, which is obviously not going to best represent the viewpoint of indigenous people who refused to convert). But these play a crucial role in getting indigenous viewpoints into history.

Oral history

Oral history gets a lot of crap from historians and laypeople alike, because there has long been an attitude that oral history is not “real” history, which is written down in books. Increasingly historians are recognizing that oral history is not inferior history, just a different way of keeping history. The list goes on and on about why people don’t think oral history “works”: it’s unreliable, it’s all just mythology, it’s all been forgotten because of colonization. In the end, this mostly just comes out to the same effect of stubbornly refusing to accept oral history as a legitimate way of telling history. And this is a major problem, because oral history is the primary place where indigenous people have maintained sovereignty over our own histories.

Like with archaeological data and Native-made written records, people, both Native and non-Native tend to vastly underestimate the amount of information that exists in the form of oral history. It’s true that colonization, through the deaths of so many people and the attempts to convince survivors that their history is without value, has done a lot of damage, but there’s an incredible amount that has survived. It covers greater time depth than you’d expect, too. For instance, a lot of oral history was collected from elders in the very early 1900s. If you’ve got an elder whose about 90 years old in 1900, they may remember things their elders told them when they were kids–people who were in their 80s in 1825 or so, who were born in the mid-1700s. In the book “The Cheyenne Nation” there’s a story in which members of one military society, in 1982, recite a two-hour list of grievances with another society, going all the way back to events that happened in 1837. Native politics, they never change 😛

There are a lot of cases of indigenous people with oral stories about past events and migrations and ways of life that were initially dismissed as entirely made up but in recent years have been validated by archaeology (e.g. the origins of the Nahua people in the American Southwest, the Dhegiha migration from the Ohio River valley, Choctaw stories about Nanih Waiya and the mound builders). Like with written sources, you need to make sure you understand particular pieces of oral history. Unlike written sources, which freeze a particular moment in time for future generations to see, oral history is a demonstration of what things are deemed so important that they manage to be told even years later.

In many ways the analysis of oral history is not, at a structural level, significantly different from analyzing written history. In both cases you need to examine who is speaking, to whom, why… but while academia has developed over a great span of time very precise ways of picking apart written history, the serious academic study of oral history is much younger, and the same kind of technical understanding doesn’t quite exist. This is especially an issue for indigenous people, because in many (if not all) communities, oral histories are part of very complex traditions unique to that particular community. If you’re listening to a Cree story, you’re not going to be able to fully understand it and what it is doing on a meta level if you’re not familiar with the genres of Cree speeches (acimowina, atayohkewina, wawiyatacimowina, kakeskihkemowina), the stylistics of the language used, the allusions to what is assumed to be known by the listener. If you don’t know that, it’s going to be like trying to analyze a piece of literature without any knowledge of the format of novels, nonfiction, letters, newspapers, etc., or the poetic traditions of Europe, or Enlightenment philosophy, or any of the cultural knowledge held in common by your average American.

Putting it all together

So you get all this information, and what do you do with it? A lot of it is contradictory, or vague, or difficult to piece together. There are endless debates about the accuracy and the ethics of linking archaeology with oral history with historically recorded people with modern indigenous nations.

Personally, my ultimate goal is returning the power to indigenous people to tell our own histories. We are deprived of control of our own history on so many levels: through government and private ownership of ancestral remains and objects, through the lack of Native voices in popular history, through the poor education given to indigenous youth, through the delegitimization of indigenous ways of telling history. The only place we have kept sovereignty over our own history is amongst ourselves, in the stories our grandparents tell us and we tell each other. For that reason, I tend towards the view of using archaeology and written records to illuminate the oral and written traditions of Native people, rather than the other way around as many academics do it. Because at the heart of it, indigenous history belongs to indigenous people–people not only deserve but need to know their own history. So my priority is returning it to them where it has been forcibly severed from them.

It’s a messy project, for sure. It’s all well and good to say “let’s do this!”, but the actual work of putting this all together and making sense of it is really tough, and there’s not a lot of people who want to or have the skills to properly mix these three rather different fields of archaeology, written history, and oral history. You’ve got academic archaeologists with detailed understanding of their particular specialty, you’ve got the historians who work with all the tiniest documents you’d never imagine exist, you’ve got tribal historians whose knowledge would astound you, but they all tend to exist in isolation from each other. The work of getting a full view of indigenous history in North America involves managing to put all these things on the table with people who know how to interpret them, and to put indigenous people in charge of understanding and telling their own history.

What if people told European history like they told Native American history?

The first immigrants to Europe arrived thousands of years ago from central Asia. Most pre-contact Europeans lived together in small villages. Because the continent was very crowded, their lives were ruled by strict hierarchies within the family and outside it to control resources. Europe was highly multi-ethnic, and most tribes were ruled by hereditary leaders who commanded the majority “commoners.” These groups were engaged in near constant warfare.

Pre-contact Europeans wore clothing made of natural materials such as animal skin and plant and animal-based textiles. Women wore long dresses and covered their hair, and men wore tunics and leggings. Both men and women liked to wear jewelry made from precious stones and metals as a sign of status. Before contact, Europeans had very poor diets. Most people were farmers and grew wheat and vegetables and raised cows and sheep to eat. They rarely washed themselves, and had many diseases because they often let their animals live with them.

Religion infused every part of Europeans’ lives. Europeans believed in one supreme deity, a father figure, who they believed was made of three parts, and they particularly worshiped the deity’s son. They claimed that their god had given humans domination over the earth. They built elaborate temples to him and performed ceremonies in which they ate crackers and drank wine and believed it was the body and blood of their god, who would provide them with entrance into a wondrous afterlife called heaven when they died. Many wars were fought over disagreements about the details of this religion, each group believing their interpretation was the right one that should be spread across the land.

Now imagine that is part of a textbook that has entire chapters on the Mississippian polities of the 1200s and a detailed account of the diplomatic situation of the southeastern provinces in the 1400s and 1500s, an enormous section that goes through the history of the rise of the Triple Alliance in Mexico and goes through the rule of each tlatoani and their policies, the heritage of Teotihuacan and its legacy in later Mesoamerican politics, elaborate descriptions of the trade routes that connected and drove various nations in North America. Long explanations of the rise of various religious movements such as the calumet ceremony and Midewiwin, and how they affected political agendas and artistic trends. Pages and pages and pages going through the past thousand years of American history century by century.

And these three paragraphs are the only mention of European history before the year 1500.

If your textbook of North American history goes into the details of the Middle Ages, the Reformation and Renaissance, the Silk Road, and European monarchies, and you don’t include equal description of the Mississippian coalescence and dispersal, Haudenosaunee-Algonquian relations, the Woodlands, trans-plains, and southwestern trade systems, the Mexica conquests and the Fifth Sun ideology with explicit naming of various places and leaders, then your textbook is inadequate.

Why do you include those “pre-contact” European things? Because they explain the motivations and reasons for what Europeans did. But people largely imagine North America as this timeless place and don’t recognize that pre-contact American history had just as much of an effect on post-contact history because it provides explanations of the motivations and reasonings behind indigenous peoples’ actions.

But of course, that would require people to recognize that indigenous people had their own histories and agendas and agency that affected the course of history rather than making them a passive recipient of European historical force.

Recognizing Hopewell and Cultural Continuity

I saw a post of a Hopewell pipe a few days ago and it got me thinking about Hopewell. For the unfamiliar, Hopewell is the name for the general cultural tradition and exchange network that spread across the eastern woodlands from about 200 BC to 500 AD. It’s an archaeological culture, not a linguistic or ethnic one, meaning the defining characteristics are similar types of pottery, pipes, sculpture, jewelry, and most notably, mounds. Here is a map of the various permutations of Hopewell:

Ohio Hopewell is generally considered the heart of the Hopewell exchange network,  but obviously you can see Hopewellian style things appeared throughout the east. Hopewell is most famous for the large earthen mounds, created in animal shapes and swirly designs and also plain conical burial mounds, as well as the extremely beautiful pipes carved in the shape of animals and people.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years learning about Cahokia and Mississippian history, and I recently got a book called Hawk, Hero, and Open Hand that was about ancient art of the eastern woodlands, in which there were a few articles about Hopewell. And looking at them, I noticed that fascinatingly the designs seemed rather familiar to me. In Mississippian art, there are certain things that are culturally familiar to me, like the duality of the sky beings and the underwater beings, but it’s a fairly mild connection with only a few elements, familiar but still not something I instinctively understand. Most people agree that the direct cultural descendants of the Mississippian tradition are Muskogean, Caddoan, and Siouan speaking people: Choctaw, Chickasaw, Maskoke, Osage, Pawnee, Wichita, Oto, Iowa, Ho-Chunk, Dakota. I was raised with Great Lakes Anishinaabe-Metis traditions, and while I have some Dakota ancestors and my ancestors were on the edges of the Mississippian/Oneota, I wasn’t raised with Dakota or Ho-Chunk or Choctaw stories and ceremonies. People who were raised with them look at Mississippian art with much more recognition, because their cultures retain elements from that, passed down for a thousand years.

But with Hopewell art, I saw some of that familiarity and it surprised me. Even on just an aesthetic level, Hopewell art seems more familiar to me than Mississippian; Mississippian art reminds me of the stark Plains painting traditions, while the curlicue lines of Hopewell look a lot like the Anishinaabe paintings I’ve seen on rocks and birchbark and canvas in modern Woodland Medicine Style art. So I started to look into Hopewell some more, curious about the connections. Like I pointed out above, there’s fairly broad agreement about who the descendants of the Mississippians are, and there’s happily increasing efforts to involve them with their own history rather than archaeologists keeping it for themselves. But Mississippian cultures continued in a recognizable form until contact with Europeans, meaning that written sources could help identify ethnic affiliations. The Hopewell peoples stopped building Hopewell-style mounds about five hundred years before the Mississippians got started, and as a result not too many people have really even tried getting into the issue of their linguistic or cultural affiliation.

I happen to think that this is in large part because archaeologists have still failed in bringing the information they’ve gathered to indigenous people and having them direct the course of research; if my untrained Great Lakes Metis eyes can see similarities, then if you get elders looking at this stuff there is so much potential for understanding. And I do think some people have been working on this, which is good.

Anyway, from the scarce resource I could find speculating on this, the predominant opinion is that Hopewell doesn’t correspond to a single ethnic or linguistic group, but rather was a tradition shared across many. Which is sort of obvious given the history and culture of the woodlands people. The general thought is that Ohio Hopewell built off of the earlier local Adena culture, and then increased trade with other areas spread many art styles, rituals, and ideas around the area east of the Rocky Mountains. The more western types of Hopewell were probably made by Siouan speaking people, likely the ancestors of the Mississippians, who for their part built on certain Hopewell traditions. The Point Peninsula and Laurel complexes have been associated with Algonquian speakers, Laurel in particular being associated with Cree people. At least one person has suggested based on archaeology, linguistics, and oral history that the Hopewell interaction may have been associated with the spread of Algonquian people from the Proto-Algonquian homeland in southern Ontario, which I find fairly compelling. Other Hopewellians, perhaps even the Ohio Hopewellians themselves, were most likely Iroquoian-speakers.

Though I haven’t done a ton of research yet, much of this rings true for me in an instinctual way. It made me think of thee books I’ve read recently, one about Dakota history, one Wendat, and one Anishinaabe, each by indigenous people from their respective nation. In all three, there was a story of a flood caused by the underwater beings in which a muskrat dove deep into the ocean and pulled up soil which was formed into the earth on the back of a turtle. It’s the same story that I have heard from Metis, Anishinaabe, and Cree people all my life, and I was amazed at how similar all of our traditions were for three different cultures from three entirely different linguistic groups. I’ve heard it remarked by scholars that nearly all indigenous people east of the Rockies share certain basic understandings of the world, and I’d noticed that I’ve always found it easiest to understand people from that area, regardless of whether they were from the plains or the lakes or the east coast, but learning more about Hopewell has given me a very intriguing historical perspective on that. These things that we share, they were most likely also shared by Hopewell peoples, with their huge exchange influence getting farflung nations to interact and share ideas and ceremonies.

If that is the case, then Hopewell is a huge part of the shared cultural heritage of the entire eastern 3/4s of North America. And (as I continually argue) it needs to be returned to the hands and hearts of those people. For me, this entry into the world of Hopewell has been a real reality check for me because of the emotional, visceral reaction I have to it, unlike other areas ancient American history which I’m not a descendant of. It made me think, for instance, about the pipes that are some of the most famous Hopewell “artifacts.” Pipes are an extremely sacred part of modern traditional culture for most people in the eastern woodlands, and they’re things that must be treated very carefully. One elder (I forget what tribe he’s from, but one that is connected to Hopewell and Mississippians) commented that as he got to know the pipes better, he began to wonder if it was appropriate for them to be displayed. And he said he was still conflicted, because certainly there is the way our ancestors would have done it (if they buried it, it was intended to stay buried), but there is also to consider the fact that these things are incredibly precious in teaching our youth about our history, and the fact that time passes and things change, and we are no longer in Hopewell times. I personally am still struggling with the question of how I feel about displaying images of the pipes, which is why none appear here.

It’s an extremely touchy thing. If indigenous people lay claim to the bones and art of ancestors like the Hopewell, there’s even more opportunity for clashing with archaeologists than already exists, and that will be a difficult thing to navigate. In addition, there’s also the difficulty that due to the long amount of time that has passed, no individual tribe can lay sole claim to Hopewell, and that has the potential to create conflict between and within tribes who disagree about what to do with the pieces of history. Still, I think all of these things are worth dealing with for the benefits that will come from returning Hopewell history to the hands of indigenous people whose ancestors made it. Learning this, about the influential history that my direct cultural ancestors were involved with, has been really amazing, and that is something I want other indigenous people to be able to share.

A brief, somewhat annotated bibliography for this quarter

Most of the ones I have un-annotated I am either still in the process of reading, or they were really unremarkable, being neither great nor especially horrendous. Books I found especially valuable are starred.

*Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England 1500-1643, Neal Salisbury (decent overview of early contact Dawnland; it’s been so long since I read it I honestly don’t remember much but it taught me a lot)

Native people of southern New England, 1500-1650, Kathleen J. Bragdon (ethnography/history of Dawnland peoples, good for finding sources but lacks indigenous perspective)

*Huron-Wendat : the heritage of the circle, Georges E. Sioui (really great, written by a Wendat author, combines oral tradition, archaeology, and Native perspectives of history)

For an Amerindian autohistory : an essay on the foundations of a social ethic, Georges E. Sioui

*The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815, Richard White (a very good foundational, almost definitive, source on intercultural interactions in the Great Lakes region)

From Chicaza to Chickasaw : the European invasion and the transformation of the Mississippian world, 1540-1715, Robbie Ethridge (solid information connecting historic nations to older Mississippian ones, but the author explicitly decided to exclude modern Chickasaw people)

Hero, hawk, and open hand : American Indian art of the ancient Midwest and South, Art Institute of Chicago (surprisingly good and understandable analysis of Hopewell/Mississippian history, includes multiple indigenous authors)

Separate Peoples, One Land: The Minds of Cherokees, Blacks, and Whites on the Tennessee Frontier, Cynthia Cumfer (pretty good overview of the intellectual development of various people in Tennessee ca1768-1810, but her analysis of Black history in the area is notably poor in comparison to white and Cherokee history)

*The Comanche Empire, Pekka Hamalainen (extremely good analysis centering Comanche people, but falls flat on some cultural issues)

Storms Brewed in Other Men’s Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540-1795, Elizabeth A. H. John (often problematic but covers a wide range of time and people)

*Common and contested ground : a human and environmental history of the northwestern plains, Theodore Binnema (EXCELLENT book centering indigenous people, connecting archaeology to written records and oral history, not by an indigenous author though)

Indians in the Fur Trade: their role as hunters, trappers, and middlemen in the lands southwest of Hudson Bay 1660-1870, Arthur J. Ray

Twin Tollans : Chichén Itzá, Tula, and the epiclassic to early postclassic Mesoamerican world, Jeff Karl Kowalski & Cynthia Kristan-Graham, eds.

*The Mixtec pictorial manuscripts : time, agency, and memory in ancient Mexico, Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen, Gabina Aurora Perez Jimenez (very good, one author is Mixtec herself and they focus on indigenous conceptions and responsibilities re: history in addition to giving a good base in Mixtec manuscripts)

Acercamiento a la filosofía y la ética del mundo mixteco, Ignacio Ortiz Castro (philosophical writing by a Mixtec author)

Nuu Nudzahui: La Mixteca de Oaxaca, Ronald Spores

Columbus and Other Cannibals, Jack D. Forbes (very on-point analysis of Western civilization through wihtikow understandings)

*Native American autobiography redefined : a handbook, Stephanie A. Sellers (fantastic analysis of Native ideas of literature)

Research is ceremony : indigenous research methods, Shawn Wilson

Âh-âyîtaw isi ê-kî-kiskêyihtahkik maskihkiy = They knew both sides of medicine : Cree tales of curing and cursing, Alice Ahenakew, H.C. Wolfart & Freda Ahenakew

Africans and Native Americans : the language of race and the evolution of Red-Black peoples, Jack D. Forbes.

Indigenous Historiography


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EDIT: (zaagibagaa-giizis 2013) My thoughts on this continue to evolve and I’ve come to realize certain weak spots in what I wrote here. Particularly the stuff about mino-bimaadizin as a historical lens. More thinking needed, take with a grain of salt. 

Even though mainstream historical/anthropological scholarship doesn’t claim “civilization” to be inherently superior to other way of living anymore, the way they talk about human societies still very clearly shows their belief in the European idea of “progressing” uniformly from a lower, more “primitive” way of life to a more advanced and thus better one.

For example, settler scholars writing about Cahokia, the Anasazi, Tenochtitlan, and the Maya. There’s a strong thread in scholarship about these places that basically like, “Look! The Indians managed to get advanced civilizations too! [ergo they are also worthy of being included history]” And especially with Mississippian and Mayan society, there’s a narrative that when the Europeans arrived, people were living in the “aftermath” of the “ruin” of their great civilizations (and that this made them more susceptible to colonization). I mean, I understand why Western-trained writers talk about them this way. They are making analogies to how, for instance, the ‘fall’ of Rome is dealt with in European history.

But for an indigenous history, we cannot accept that. As an indigenous person, I ask, “Why is one kind of way of life elevated over another, as though it is improvement?” In particular, I question why a major part of the definition of civilization, having a socially stratified society, is considered a good thing. Really? We’re gonna say having inequality is a sign of progress?

Here is the main point of my argument: History is not a linear march of progress and improvement from a primitive state to a better civilized one, but a continuous, cyclical readjustment of life in accordance with the shifting of the environment around us. 

While in the European model of history, people are thought to be constantly seeking material improvement of their lives, in an indigenous view, I suggest that people are trying to live mino-bimaadiziwin. Mino-bimaadiziwin is an Anishinaabe word, but I have been taught about it by Cree and Metis people as well (who call it miyo-pimatisiwin). It literally means “good life” but the meaning is very different from the English. To put it simplistically, mino-bimaadiziwin means living a life fully according to your community’s values. It includes both material aspects of life and spiritual ones. (This is a big simplification; mino-bimaadiziwin is a major thing in Anishinaabe thought that has a lot of ideas involved I’m not getting into here.)

When I read and talk about indigenous history, I look for how people were trying to live mino-bimaadiziwin. That is, what they did to try to have good conditions (of having enough to eat, a happy family, shelter, comfort) and to live a good life according to their community’s values (following spiritual practices, connection to the community, respecting and honoring, etc). Where this tends to confuse people in the European model of history is that sometimes, the way to live mino-bimaadiziwin leads people to so-called “primitive” ways of life.

Some examples of how this can be applied to our understanding of history:

Cahokia and the Mississippian cultures. Westerner historians treat this like a standard narrative of the rise and fall of “advanced civilization.” They take it for granted that people would move “towards” a stratified society, and are thus confused and constantly trying to find out why it “fell.” The narrative looks different from an indigenous perspective. People moved to villages and cities because they offered a way of mino-bimaadiziwin: Cahokia has shown that it offered abundant shelter and food as well as a strong spiritual grounding.

Eventually, however, the changing environment made other ways of life offer the best ways of mino-bimaadiziwin. Weather, crop failure, and health problems meant that living in smaller villages or hunting buffalo offered better material conditions, and it’s likely that the political and spiritual situations (because they were tightly interwoven) were similar. There is no reason to regard life in the cities of the Mississippians as superior to the ones they lived in after.

The plains way of life. Although people have always hunted buffalo and lived on the plains, the real height of the horse-based buffalo-hunting way of life didn’t kick off until 1700. To Western eyes, the change from life in sedentary agricultural villages to nomadic hunting ones looks like a regression. But to indigenous eyes, it is a very sensible change in the continuous search for mino-bimaadiziwin.

Before the 1700s, buffalo hunting was very beneficial to communities both from a material and spiritual perspective, but it was also very dangerous and difficult to manage on a long-term basis. Starting in the early 1700s, however, horses and guns began to arrive on the plains. This change in the environment (particularly the horses) made it possible to hunt buffalo more or less full time. Hunting buffalo offered mino-bimaadiziwin: food, shelter, clothing, spiritual fulfillment. Even European accounts record that the way of the buffalo hunt was a constant enticement to Native people.

Thule and Inuit history. I recently read something that described people north of the tree line as having lived roughly the same way of life for thousands of years. While I suspect there’s much more to it than that, I want to address the Western view that living in the same way for a very long time is bad, or at the very least “stagnant.” In the Western view, progress is assumed the default and thus not only “regression” but also a lack of progress is considered a failure.

Looking at this from an indigenous perspective, however, it look instead that people have found a way of mino-bimaadiziwin that is fulfilling within their environment and that the environment has not changed enough to require substantial alterations to that way of living. For certain, it changes constantly and so some changes occurred, but on the whole that method of mino-bimaadiziwin sustained people for a very long time.


There’s a ton more stuff I could get into—I’m really excited, there’s a lot in this way of looking at history that I want to explore. Looking at modern indigenous life as a continuation of our seeking mino-bimaadiziwin. How the mino-bimaadiziwin model of history can even be applied to Europe, with some alterations. The importance of recognizing individual peoples’ approaches to history, recognizing that mino-bimaadiziwin comes from specific groups and may not be the most appropriate for all indigenous people. I’m also really excited to see how the ideas Marimba Ani has suggested in Yurugu (such as asili, utamawazo, and utamaroho) can help in an indigenous (specifically indigenous African) idea of history.

Pre-Columbian contact that probably happened


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Pre-Columbian American history is one of my biggest areas of interest. And one of the things I’ve learned over the course of studying it is that unlike in European history, where “theory unsupported by most mainstream historians” generally means “crazy pile of nonsense someone dreamt up to further their political cause,” in Pre-Columbian American history it generally means “explanation of ambiguous evidence that may very well come to be accepted as true in another ten years.”

Non-Native historians of the Pre-Columbian Americas are very reluctant to let go of their preconceived ideas of American history. But after looking through evidence, I think there’s strong suggestions that the following things really happened:

1. Norse in Greenland and the Canadian Atlantic, ~900s to 1400s
This one has been actually definitely proven with lots of records and archeology and stuff. They sailed in from Iceland, set up some camps, got in a lot of fights with the Native people (either Inuit or Tuniit/Thule).

My thought: yeah we know this one happened for sure.

2. Polynesian-South American trade, probably between ~300-1000 AD
This was the period when Polynesian people were sailing all over the place through the Pacific. It’s also the time when sweet potatoes, native to South America, showed up in the Pacific Islands. There’s some material evidence of Polynesian bones and art in Chile. This one is also fairly widely supported by archaeologists although there are some people who disagree.

My thought: 95% sure it happened.

3. Inuit sailors in Europe
This one baffles me because there’s extensive evidence of it but no one actually talks about it. I guess it’s because Native Americans discovering Europe is less exciting than the other way around. Anyway, there were for sure records of Inuit people going to Europe with Norse, mostly as prisoners. There’s also a good amount of evidence in both material and historical records of Inuit-style artifacts and people getting shipwrecked in Iceland, the British Isles, and Friesland.

My thought: This one 100% definitely happened.

4. Japanese sailors in the Pacific Northwest, ??-1800s
There’s a LOT of Japanese shipwrecks in the PNW. There were about 187 shipwrecks of Japanese boats on the PNW coast from 500-1750. Later records from the 1800s write that of the shipwrecks at that time about half had survivors. Records of Japanese sailors sailing into the Pacific the distance it would take to get to the PNW exist and actually it would have been easier to get there than to some of the other places they were going. There are a good amount of Japanese artifacts from Pre-Columbian times in the PNW, though some contest the significance because they might have been old items brought by more recent Japanese sailors.

My thought: I think it almost definitely happened but probably not as a major, regular thing. It’s not as certain as the first three but the evidence is pretty solid.

5. Basque fisherman on the northeast coast, 1300s-1400s
There’s a lot up in the air on this one, with some people taking it as a given that it happened and others saying there’s no evidence whatsoever. The evidence is compelling but all very circumstantial: the Basque established themselves ridiculously early in the region of the North American northeast (the first record is 1517 but they already appeared well-established with the Native people), a Basque-Algonquian pidgin showed up almost immediately, and adult light-skinned, curly-haired, green-eyed Natives were around the area very early on. In addition, European records show that the Basque had found a mysterious source of cod on an island west of Iceland. They were highly secretive of this source but even when they were cut off from Icelandic fishing they continued to bring in fish from the west.

My thought: the evidence isn’t solid enough to say it definitely happened but I would be very very unsurprised if this gets proven to be true in the next decade.

PRE-COLUMBIAN CONTACTS BETWEEN THE ASIAN FAR EAST AND THE NORTHWEST COAST OF NORTH AMERICA, Africans and Native Americans by Jack D Forbes, numerous other sources I didn’t write down as I plowed through the internet trying to make sure I was remembering the evidence right.

Borders and the Métis Nation


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History of the Métis Homeland

Quick refresher: The Métis are a group of people who are descended from primarily French-Canadian, Scottish, and English fur traders who married mostly Cree and Ojibwe women, who then formed their own society with a separate ethnic identity from their parent European and First Nation societies. Intermarriage began pretty much as soon as Europeans and Native people met, but the first distinct Métis identities and societies began to appear in the western Great Lakes area (modern Ontario, Michigan, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois and Ohio) in the 1700s.

In the early 1800s, as white settlers began to enter those areas, a lot of Métis people moved west. South of the Great Lakes Métis, French-Canadian, and British people continued to monopolize trade despite being in what was technically US territory until the war of 1812, after which many migrated north and west. Thus in the area near Lake Winnipeg a society sprang up known as the Red River colony, a mixture of Great Lakes Métis and new Métis born out of the fur trade in that area. At this time there was a division between Métis born of Franch-Canadian ancestors and those of Anglophone ancestors. In 1816 after the Battle of Frog Plains (also known as the Battle of Seven Oaks) in which the Métis made a decisive victory against the fur trade companies, a sense of a common Métis identity developed in the area, causing it to be frequently referred to as the birth of the Métis nation.

Métis people began to spread west for largely two reasons. The first was their involvement in the fur trade, like their French-Canadian predecessors; many Métis men worked for the North West Company or the Hudson Bay Company, taking them as far away as the modern Northwest Territories and British Columbia, as well as through the prairie provinces. Increasingly, however, Métis people took the the prairies (both in what is now Canada and the US), where they hunted buffalo in the summer months.

By and large, the Métis are still found in these same areas. An image of the Métis nation homeland as it is popularly imagined is this one:

This includes all of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. A concept of a Métis homeland is somewhat complicated. It tends to refer to places that Métis people have historically lived; however, Métis people are also found outside of it both in history and the present, and in addition, numerous other non-Métis people also have their homelands within what is considered the Métis homeland (namely First Nations communities, which are often located side-by-side with Métis ones, and very frequently there is significant blurring between the two).

That said, I would say that a few other areas should probably considered part of the Métis homeland, such as northern Wisconsin and Michigan (I am slightly biased as that is where my family is from!). The main reason that these areas are not commonly considered part of the Métis homeland is that they fall into two categories that are often invisible in Métis history: that of Great Lakes Métis who largely did not participate in the two Métis resistances of the 19th century, and that of United States Métis, who lack the federal recognition of Canadian Métis. Ontario Métis are from the same cultural group as Wisconsin and Michigan Métis, but they are Canadian; Métis in North Dakota and Montana are in the US but most have connections to the Métis resistances.

The Métis nation, therefore, has been existing across the modern US-Canadian border for centuries, both in the Great Lakes region and the prairies. The border in the east was largely solidified to the Métis by the 1860s. On the prairies, Métis people continued to hunt buffalo and live mostly ignorant of the border through the 1860s and 70s. In the 70s and 80s, the border was being more strictly enforced by US and Canadian officials, but Métis people continued to move across it regularly. After the North West Resistance of 1885, a diaspora of Métis people spread out from the Red River area, including a large number who went south to the United States, hoping to escape the stigma of being “halfbreed.”

Developments in Métis Government

Some of the first forms of centralized Métis government came along with the annual buffalo hunts in the prairies. An enormous amount of Métis people came together in the spring and fall to hunt buffalo for both subsistence use and for pemmican and buffalo robes to sell. In order to make sure that the hunt ran smoothly, a complex system of organization was developed. A captain of the hunt was elected by the community, along with a council. This group organized how the hunt would proceed, creating a system of written and unwritten rules (sometimes known as the Laws of the Prairies or the Laws of the Hunt). This system was in place likely from some time in the mid to late 1700s, and was firmly established by the 1820s. It drew Métis from the Red River settlement, the plains, and even from southeast in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the hunt itself took place in an area that is now southern Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba as well as North Dakota, Montana, and western Minnesota.

Previously, the overwhelming majority of people living in the Red River area and further west were Métis people of both Francophone and Anglophone heritage. By the 1860s, however the British and Canadian governments became concerned with the possibility US expansionism reaching land owned by the Hudson Bay Company. In 1868 Rupert’s Land was transferred to Canada, and Canadian officials announced that they would be taking control of the Red River area in 1869. The Métis community viewed this as a threat to their way of life, fearing that both anti-Francophone and anti-Indigenous prejudice would cause the Canadian officials to remove their ability to govern themselves.

After the Métis conflicts with the Hudson Bay Company in the early 1800s, numerous Métis had come to be part of the Council of Assiniboia, which was an unelected body of representatives from the company as well as the Francophone and Anglophone Métis communities in the area. The Council was still active when Canada announced its intention to enter the Red River area, and it organized Métis people to defend their sovereignty over the area. Among them, Louis Riel proposed the creation of a provisional government and was eventually elected its president. The provisional government, through militia action and negotiation, managed to get Manitoba admitted to the Confederation as a province with certain promises for the protection of certain political rights, land ownership, and cultural aspects such as language and religion. The provisional government ceased to exist when the Canadian government sent a military force (the Wolseley Expedition) to confront Riel, who fled across the border to the United States.

Following the creation of Manitoba, its government was immediately dominated by Anglo representatives–although Louis Riel was three times elected to represent Manitoba, due to his exile he never actually took the position. As a result, many Métis moved west to modern Saskatchewan and Alberta, where they could continue to live in their own societies. A number of councils similar to the former provisional government sprang up, the most powerful being in St. Laurent, but the North West Mounted Police soon intervened in Métis affairs due to Canadian fears of a repeat of the resistance of 1869, and the councils lost most of their authority beyond small domestic issues. The Métis were forced to deal with a territorial government that featured virtually no Métis representatives, the exact thing they’d been trying to avoid by migrating.

For much of the 70s and 80s the Métis tried to negotiate with the government to gain representation of their views, but success was limited. By the 1880s, Métis people had formed unofficial groups in their communities aiming to rectify the situation, and Louis Riel was called back from the United States, where he had been living in a Métis community in Montana. Riel and other leaders such as Gabriel Dumont led the North West Resistance of 1885, which ended in the execution of Riel. In the aftermath, the Canadian and territorial governments turned strongly against the Métis, who nonetheless fought hard to get a foothold in the government of the area. Repression by government officials led to widespread silence about the 1885 resistance, and in many cases Métis families attempted to pass themselves off as French-Canadian to avoid stigma.

Métis on the Canadian side of the border began to reassemble in local associations aimed at improving the economic situation of the Métis beginning in the 1930s. In the early part of the 20th century, Métis people were often known as the Road Allowance People, due to the enormous number of Métis people who had been dispossessed of their lands and were living on the public lands around roads. Métis communities were largely self-governed on a local basis but subject to persecution by Canadian officials. In the 1960s, there was another wave of political organization by Métis communities, sparking the creation of Métis provincial organizations. Despite local involvement, Métis people received little national recognition or political rights until 1982, when they were named one of Canada’s three Aboriginal people. The following year, the Métis National Council was created to bring together Métis organizations in each province and to represent the Métis nation on a national and international stage.

South of the border, many Métis had moved south and/or west into Montana alongside Cree people who were often kin in search of buffalo; many more came south to Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota after the resistance of 1885. They lived in autonomous communities but in the late 1870s were increasingly pestered by the US military, who suspected them of providing arms to the Lakota. Pressed by difficult living conditions and lack of food, the Métis and Cree in the Montana area drew closer together and began to request the assistance of nearby reservations, with whom they often shared family. In 1882, a group of Ojibwe and Métis signed treaties creating the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. In the last decades of the 19th century, many Métis families moved onto the reservation. Others became part of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation created in 1916, or one of the several other political descendants of the Pembina Band that had consisted of both Ojibwe and Métis people on the Red River.

No real equivalent to the revival of Métis identity and political associations in Canada has occurred in the United States in the 20th and 21st centuries. Métis people in the United States were divided politically between those enrolled and on reservations, who were (and still are) treated as Indians by the federal government, and those who were not associated with a reservation, who came to be considered white by the government.

The Great Lakes Métis on both sides of the border continued to live in their communities even after many migrated northwest in the early 1800s. Although initially strongly integrated with the fur trade companies, after they moved west Métis communities became more autonomous, and tended to be more strongly connected to the First Nations around them (mostly Ojibwe and Odawa, but in Wisconsin and Minnesota there were also significant connections with the Menominee, Dakota, and other nations). With an influx of white settlers in the 1840s and 50s, the US and British governments began to make treaties with local First Nations groups. The Métis also requested land or payment benefits in many of these treaties on both sides of the border, and were in nearly all cases supported in this by their relatives among the First Nations groups, while the governments fought to keep Métis out of the treaties. Several treaties gave Métis payments as “halfbreeds” and a few promised them land (such as the halfbreed tracts in the United States); regardless of these promises, most Métis eventually lost the land to settlers, just as Métis in the prairies lost their scrip lands.

There is very little existing written history of Great Lakes Métis communities after the 1850s. In both Canada and the US, some Métis eventually enrolled in local Indian reserves/reservations, while others lived in their own communities, frequently on the outskirts of either predominantly white towns or the Indian reserves. In the United States, Métis communities in the Great Lakes continued to live with at least something of a separate communities from other Indian and white people until at least the 1940s, but there has been no real movement of Métis people in recent times around that identity. In contrast, Métis in Ontario have a political organization under the Métis National Counsel, and one of the most influential Métis-related court cases in Canada was brought about by an Ontario Métis family (the Powley ruling).

Cross-border and non-Indian

And so we reach, more or less, the present day. The Métis nation continues to exist on both sides of the border. In Canada, the number of people identifying as Métis openly has increased and Métis political power is likewise increasing throughout Western Canada. There, the Métis are recognized as indigenous people distinct from First Nations and Inuit people. They do not have a designated land base in the form of a reserve or reservation, and until very recently had essentially the same legal status as non-indigenous Canadians, unlike many First Nations people. Since 2003 there has been more discussion of Métis legal rights, including the Powley ruling which indicated that Métis people do have certain rights non-Aboriginal people do not. One can be recognized by the Métis National Council, receiving Métis status and a card, but it does not carry significant legal benefits akin to having Indian status.

In the United States, the word Métis is practically unknown outside the Turtle Mountain Reservation and several other historically Métis communities in the north. Métis people who are part of the Turtle Mountain Band are considered to Indians under United States law, and the band is run by tribal government like other First Nations groups in the US. Other Métis whose families did not join up with a First Nations reservation in the US remain mostly without centralized organization.

I do not have research or evidence beyond the anecdotal as to how much interaction has occurred between Métis people north and south of the border. In my experience, it is very, very common for Métis families to have relatively recent ancestors from both sides of the border, and it’s not too unusual for people to cross it to visit relatives or for special occasions such as Back to Batoche. Because Métis people as a distinct group remain mostly unknown in the US, most Métis-centered political efforts are strongly based in Canada. Most Métis people are aware, however, of the historical cross-border nature of the Métis nation. It’s difficult to tell if there will be any sort of movement to join forces with Métis across the borders. One of the most unifying factors, however, has been the revitalization of the Michif language, which remains particularly strong in North Dakota. As a result, in the past few decades there has been an increase in communication between US and Canadian Métis who are trying to keep their language alive.

There are many other indigenous groups in North America that cross international borders created by colonizer nations. These include the Kanienkeha (Mohawk), Mikmaq, Blackfoot, Ojibwe, Cree, Yoeme (Yaqui), Kumeyaay, Tohono O’odham, and others. Across the US and Canadian border, certain agreements have been worked out so that indigenous citizens may cross the border with more ease than non-indigenous people–for instance, the Jay Treaty has allowed Canadian-born people with Indian status to come to the United States. Crossing the US-Mexican border has been much more difficult, due to the American concern about immigration from that area.

In some ways the situation of the Métis more closely resembles indigenous nations that cross the southern border than the northern one. The ability to negotiate easier border crossing between Canada and the US is facilitated by the fact that the United States and Canada have relatively similar organizations of reserves and reservations, and tribal enrollment and status for First Nations people. In Mexico, however, there is less official record-keeping of indigenous people, which makes the United States less inclined to grant concessions to people who claim indigeneity and want to cross the border. The Métis in Canada are in a similar situation, having been mostly unregistered in government records and thus not as easy for the governments to keep track of. That situation is changing, though, with the creation of a Métis registry in Canada. Likewise, some indigenous nations on the southern border are finding ways to ease travel across the border with enhanced tribal IDs and other methods.

This is not to say that IDs and government registries are necessarily good things. They come with heavy baggage of colonial control and are highly controversial. Still, it will be interesting to see as Métis people reconnect across the border, spurred on by interest in Michif and other Métis cultural aspects, if the Métis nation will once again take control of its cross-border homeland.

Some notes on mapping indigenous peoples in Wisconsin


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(reposted from my tumblr account with minor format adjustments)

I’ve been doing some heavy-duty learning about indigenous history in the Great Lakes from 1600-1800 lately, and in the process I’ve learned a lot about how crappy basically everything students are taught about indigenous Wisconsin history is. This is especially true for the maps created about the area. I’m a map amateur, and if you want some really good stuff on issues of indigenous mapping, you should go check out doveilmiosoldi’s maps tag. But there are some things specific to the Great Lakes and WI in particular that I’d like to point out.

The maps

Map #1, portraying the land in 1830, is a typical example of the sort of map you’d see indicating “traditional lands of Wisconsin Indian tribes.” The layout–Ojibwe in the north, Menominee northeast, Potawatomi east, Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) southwest-central, and a teeny bit of Dakota (Sioux) territory (sometimes left out) in the west–is basically the standard narrative that most people take for granted as what tribes “traditionally” lived in Wisconsin before Europeans came in large numbers.

Wisconsin land cessions   Current Wisconsin Indian land holdings

As you can see, it closely resembles the second map, which shows which tribes ceded what land to the United States. It also roughly resembles the locations of those tribes’ current land holdings (map 3). These two facts are the reason why I think that map #1 has become the standard narrative of pre-Eurosettlement Wisconsin.

Great Lakes tribes circa 1600Great Lakes tribes circa 1760

Map 4 and map 5 depict the larger Great Lakes area somewhat earlier, 4 being roughly 1600 and 5 being 1760. The first Europeans to visit Wisconsin didn’t arrive until the 1630s, so the first map is largely speculative. There are some notable differences: the Menominee are further north, the Ho-Chunk further east, a whole other tribe the Iowa in the west and Illinois in the south, while the Potawatomi are over in Michigan and the Ojibwe north of Lake Superior.

By 1760, the Great Lakes looks more familiar to the maps from the 1800s. The Menominee, Ojibwe, Dakota, and Potawatomi are in roughly the same spot as in the early 1800s. The Ho-Chunk are in a smaller territory but the same area. But this map shows a large part of southwestern Wisconsin taken up by the Sauk and Fox, who are barely a blip on the radar of the other maps–in map 2, there’s a strange dotted line indicating Sauk and Fox in 1804, but in map 4 of 1600, the Sauk and Fox are located way over in eastern Michigan!

Add to this a few other things: the numerous landmarks named after the Fox in northeastern Wisconsin (notably the Fox River) in what most maps have as Menominee territory, the fact that the first European contact at Green Bay in the mid-1600s was with Ho-Chunk and Miami people (who by all other accounts are located southeast of Lake Michigan), and the Ojibwe and Odawa that seem to be spread out everywhere in the ceded territory map.

This confused me for a long time. So what the heck is going on?

Wisconsin in the 1600s: a crash course

The big thing about Wisconsin indigenous history that nobody seems to know is this: starting in the 1640s, the Six Nations (the Iroquois/Haudenosaunee) began massive attacks on the people located to the west of them, penetrating into Michigan, southern Ontario, and the Ohio River Valley. This wreaked absolute havoc on the people living there: Iroquoian groups like the Erie, Neutral, and Susquehannock were demolished and survivors adopted into the Six Nations. Basically everyone else, notably the Odawa, Wyandot, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Miami, and Illinois, fled west as fast as they could.

So by the mid-1600s, Wisconsin was basically one enormous refugee camp. The Ho-Chunk and Menominee, who had lived in Wisconsin before the refugees came, found themselves swamped and vastly reduced (also the Sauk and Fox seem to have migrated west to Wisconsin before the massive exodus but they were a larger tribe). Things such as tribal territory boundaries became more or less nonexistent. Around modern Green Bay and in numerous other locations, enormous intertribal villages existed; there was basically nowhere you could point to where there was only a single ethnic group living.

Note that this was the atmosphere in Wisconsin at the time when Europeans first arrived. They figured out what was going on to some extent, but remained largely clueless about the fact that these people were pretty much all trauma survivors outside their traditional territory. You can imagine how accurate that kind of mapping is going to be.

A short interlude on “territory” in the Great Lakes

It may help to explain that indigenous “territory” in the Great Lakes area did not refer to a strictly set bounded area like national borders did for Europeans. A nation’s territory referred to the land where they had villages and hunting grounds and within which people generally had the same language and customs; generally speaking there was no central authority for a single nation’s territory.

There definitely were boundaries, points at which a nation recognized that the territory wasn’t their but someone else’s, but they tended to be fluid. In addition, it was accepted by Great Lakes nations that in times of bad hunting or agriculture, one could go outside one’s territory to find food; however, after the fur trade began, those who hunted had to turn the skins of the animals over to the nation whose territory they had hunted them in.

These customs, in conjunction with the intertribal nature of the refugees in the 1600s, meant that certain areas may have been shared in common between tribes or fluctuated depending on which villages were where at what time. The area of modern Chicago, for instance, is within the reaches of both Potawatomi and Miami territory, but by the mid to late 1700s the Miami largely resided southwest of there, and though they still considered it within their traditional lands and could hunt there, they generally did not live there.

Wisconsin after the 1600s

By about 1700, the Six Nations made peace with the refugee tribes, allowing many of them to return to their pre-refugee homelands. The Miami and Illinois largely returned south to Illinois and Ohio country, the Odawa moved back a bit east to reside in Michigan, and the Potawatomi spread out in a large U shape along the east and west sides of Lake Michigan. The Ojibwe largely remained along the shores of Lake Superior, the Sauk and Fox (and Kickapoo) stayed in the central-southwest, and the Menominee and Ho-Chunk began to expand back into their lands.

A few things happened that altered this, most notably the Fox Wars in the mid-1700s, in which the French pursued a genocidal campaign against the Fox, driving them west of the Mississippi, which is why by the 1800s, only a small amount of Fox people still resided in western Wisconsin. The fur trade picked up substantially during this time, and gaining access to trade items or obtaining a position as a mediating tribe became a major priority.

All in all, the tribal territories established in the mid-1700s remained largely intact until the time when treaties were made. The area between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay remained fairly mixed in terms of tribal affiliation until the mid-1800s when indigenous people were forced onto reservations, and the Odawa resided in northern and eastern Wisconsin until the same time, when they generally either returned to Odawa treaty lands in Michigan or joined up with Ojibwe reservations. There was a great deal of mixing between Ojibwe, Odawa, Menominee, Metis and French people in northeastern Wisconsin in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and when treaties were made people tended to join up with whoever they were related to or whatever was closest. Also in the 1830s the Oneida, Stockbridge-Munsee, and Brothertown Indians were relocated to various portions of Wisconsin.

Okay, so what does this have to do with maps again?

Basically my point in this post is, the narrative of the four tribes of Wisconsin (Ojibwe, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, and Potawatomi) is extremely flawed, even if it does seem obvious and compelling because of current Wisconsin indigenous residents, and it glosses over a massive amount of history.

In terms of maps, my point is that you cannot just stick tribal names on a map of Wisconsin and have it be anything approaching accurate, because before the 1830s, Wisconsin was so mixed in terms of tribal affiliation that in many ways one’s ethnic affiliation was of little importance in comparison to one’s village or relatives.

aapishish nt-aachimon


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(Michif, I tell a little bit of a story.)

Several years ago, when I was in the process of looking up information about my ancestors, I came across several articles about the early Métis communities in northeastern Wisconsin. I was fascinated. Métis history was a Canadian thing, everyone had told me. There my ancestors had fought the British and Canadians until the execution of Louis Riel. Here, the story went, we were just the forgotten descendants of French fur traders and marginalized Anishinaabeg.

These articles said differently. They said that not only were the Métis in Wisconsin, they were once the dominating figures of the area. In 1829, Green Bay was still 60% Métis. And many famous figures in Wisconsin history I had been told were “French settlers” were in fact mixed-descent participants in the creolized Métis culture–like Charles Michel de Langlade, who was always spoken of as the “Wisconsin’s first settler” but was actually of French and Odawa parentage and had strong connections to his indigenous family.

I cried the night that I read those articles. In all the years of school I had taken in Wisconsin, no one had ever told me that my ancestors had done anything of worth there. It’s an experience that nearly every indigenous kid knows, and it was one that has been repeated for me many times: reading about Cahokia, whose history is a niche archaeological interest rarely shared with indigenous descendants of the civilization; learning the history of the Beaver Wars and the many tribes that came to Wisconsin in the 1640s; hearing about what happened to my Canadian relatives after the Red River Resistance and what, despite the more visible Métis presence in that country, continues to be ignored by most citizens.

That is the reason that I started doing everything I could to learn about North American indigenous history. There are many studies suggesting indigenous students come to hate history because of the way their people are treated in most historical texts. It’s time for non-Native academia’s claim on indigenous history to end. I want to tell our histories in a way that have mostly been ignored outside our own communities, and in a place where indigenous people can easily access them. It’s time to reclaim our history.