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Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America



Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America PDF

Author: Pekka Hämäläinen

Publisher: Liveright

Genres:

Publish Date: September 20, 2022

ISBN-10: 1631496999

Pages: 592

File Type: EPub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

THERE IS AN OLD, DEEPLY ROOTED STORY ABOUT America that goes something like this: Columbus stumbles upon a strange continent and brings back stories of untold riches. The European empires rush over, eager to stake out as much of this astonishing New World as possible. Even as they clash, they ignite an era of colonial expansion that lasts roughly four centuries, from the conquest of Hispaniola in 1492 to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Between those two moments, European empires and the nascent American empire amass souls, slaves, and territory, dispossessing and destroying hundreds of Indigenous societies. The Indians fight back but cannot stop the onslaught. Resourceful and defiant though they might be, they are no match for the newcomers and their raw ambition, superior technology, and lethal microbes that penetrate Native bodies with shocking ease. Indians are doomed; Europeans are destined to take over the continent; history itself is a linear process that moves irreversibly toward Indigenous destruction.

Indigenous Continent tells a different story. It offers a new account of American history by challenging the notion that colonial expansion was inevitable and that colonialism defined the continent, as well as the experiences of those living on it. Stepping outside of such outdated assumptions, this book reveals a world that remained overwhelmingly Indigenous well into the nineteenth century. It argues that rather than a “colonial America,” we should speak of an Indigenous America that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. By 1776, various European colonial powers together claimed nearly all of the continent for themselves, but Indigenous peoples and powers controlled it. The maps in modern textbooks that paint much of early North America with neat, color-coded blocks confuse outlandish imperial claims for actual holdings. The history of the overwhelming and persisting Indigenous power recounted here remains largely unknown, and it is the biggest blind spot in common understandings of the American past.

The reality of an Indigenous continent has remained obscure because European empires, and especially the United States, invested power in the state and its bureaucracy, whereas Native nations invested power in kinship. From the beginning, European arrivals judged Indians on European terms. Later historians did the same, focusing on state power as the driving force in America. Kinship could be a source of great power, and Indigenous nations possessed advanced political systems that allowed for flexible diplomacy and war-making, even if Euro-Americans often failed to see them. Time and again, and across centuries, Indians blocked and destroyed colonial projects, forcing Euro-Americans to accept Native ways, Native sovereignty, and Native dominance. This is what the historical record shows when American history is detached from mainstream historical narratives that privilege European ambitions, European perspectives, and European sources.

The traditional master narrative is entrenched in our culture and minds. Consider how Red Cloud’s War and Custer’s Last Stand are usually understood. According to the conventional narrative, in a single decade between 1866 and 1876, the Lakota Indians and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies defeated the United States in two wars—first along the Bozeman Trail in what became known as Red Cloud’s War, and then in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where they annihilated George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. Both defeats have entered American history as aberrations or flukes. The United States, after all, had already become a continent-spanning military-industrial power poised to expand beyond the West Coast. The Lakotas had humiliated the United States at a charged moment when the nation was shedding its frontier identity and entering the modern era of the corporate, the bureaucratic, and the scientific. The fiascos would be blamed on poor generalship and on a canny enemy familiar with the terrain.

Seen from Native American perspective, however, Red Cloud’s War and Custer’s Last Stand appear not as historical anomalies, but as the logical culmination of a long history of Indigenous power in North America. They were more expected than extraordinary. From the beginning of colonialism in North America to the Lakotas’ final military triumphs, a multitude of Native nations fought fiercely to keep their territories intact and their cultures untainted, frustrating the imperial pretensions of France, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands, and eventually the United States. This Indigenous “infinity of nations” included Iroquois, Catawbas, Odawas, Osages, Wyandots, Cherokees, Comanches, Cheyennes, Apaches, and many others. Although each nation was and is distinct, a cultural crevasse separated the European newcomers from all Indigenous inhabitants of the continent, generating fear, confusion, anger, and violence. That divide fueled one of the longest conflicts in history, while simultaneously inspiring a centuries-long search for mutual understanding and accommodation—a search that continues today.1

The great pitfalls in the study of Native Americans are broad generalizations on the one hand and narrow specificity on the other. For a long time, historians tended to see Indians as a human monolith cut from a single—and primordial—cultural cloth, a race defined by its tragic history of dispossession and its epic struggle for survival. This tradition informs many popular books that repackage Native American history into a morality play that is often more concerned with the United States and its character than with the Indians themselves. In these depictions of Native America, Indians appear as one-dimensional stock figures, their complexity and differences pressed flat for dramatic purposes. They are reduced to mere props in the United States’ violent transformation into a global power: Indigenous resistance and suffering heighten the drama, enabling people today to glimpse how much was lost and at what cost.

On the other end of the spectrum is a venerable tradition of tribal histories, each focusing on a single Native nation and providing a comprehensive portrait of its traditions, political structures, material culture, and historical experiences. This necessary and often superb scholarship has brought to life hundreds of previously obscured Indigenous peoples as forceful, creative, and resilient historical actors, filling a half-illuminated continent with human texture. The downside of this approach is its particularity. Each nation comes across as unique, embedded in its own microworld. Multiply this by five hundred, and the problem is plain to see. Examining Indigenous America in this way is like looking at a pointillistic painting from mere inches away: it overwhelms; it loses coherence; the larger patterns are impossible to discern.

With the perspective adjusted just slightly, however, a new and sharper image of North America comes into view. Indigenous Continent takes a middle course between the general and the specific, uncovering a broad range of Native American worlds that rose and fell across the continent from the early sixteenth century into the late nineteenth century. In numerous realms, Indians and colonists competed for territory, resources, power, and supremacy, with survival often hanging in the balance. Each realm had its own character, reflecting the continent’s astounding physical diversity: the stakes and dynamics of warfare, diplomacy, and belonging played out differently along coasts, along river valleys, in woodlands, in grasslands, and in the mountains.

This book is first and foremost a history of Indigenous peoples, but it is also a history of colonialism. The history of North America that emerges is of a place and an era shaped by warfare above all. The contest for the continent was, in essence, a four-centuries-long war that saw almost every Native nation fight encroaching colonial powers—sometimes in alliances, sometimes alone. Although the Indian wars in North America have been written about many times before, this book offers a broad Indigenous view of the conflict. For Native nations, war was often a last resort. In many cases, if not most, they attempted to bring Europeans into their fold, making them useful. These were not the actions of supplicants; the Europeans were the supplicants—their lives, movements, and ambitions determined by Native nations that drew the newcomers into their settlements and kinship networks, seeking trade and allies. Indian men and women alike were sophisticated diplomats, shrewd traders, and forceful leaders. The haughty Europeans assumed that the Indians were weak and uncivilized, only to find themselves forced to agree to humiliating terms—an inversion of common assumptions about White dominance and Indian dispossession that have survived to the present.

When war did come, Indians won as often as not. Older, discredited, and ludicrous notions of “savage” Indians or “noble savages” suggest a certain degree of brutality in battle, but it was the colonists who were responsible for most atrocities. Many colonists, especially the British, Spanish, and Americans, were guilty of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and other crimes, but some adopted more measured approaches to Native peoples. There were colonists who utterly despised Indians and wanted to eradicate them, but there were also colonial regimes that sought to embrace them. There were many types of colonialism—settler, imperial, missionary, extractive, commercial, and legal—and they emerge cumulatively as the story told here progresses. Tracing the evolution of colonialism is vital: the depth and reach of Indigenous power can be truly understood only against the massive colonial challenge from Europe. I have tried to show the full potential of colonialism to destroy lives, nations, and civilizations. It is against that horrific violence that Indigenous power is revealed. Overseas colonialism was a daunting endeavor that required courage and commitment. European intruders were ruthless because they held deep-seated racist ideologies and because the stakes were so high. For most of them there was no going back.

A SINGLE-VOLUME CONTINENTAL HISTORY of North America cannot devote equal attention to all Native nations, regions, and events. Large Indigenous nations and confederacies were able to confront European empires on their own terms, and they drive much of the story through their sheer capacity to keep North America Indigenous. But the smaller nations and their resistance were also essential to the making of the Indigenous continent. Preserving Indigenous power and sovereignty was a total endeavor: every colonial intrusion, however small, could generate a domino effect of Native retreats. Accordingly, this book zooms in frequently to local and intimate scales; it was there, in face-to-face encounters, where the hard work of colonizing and resisting colonization happened. Indigenous Americans were fighting for their land, for their lives, and for future generations. Every inch mattered.

This book covers a vast span of history—four centuries and a continent—but it is given shape, direction, and meaning by a single theme: power. Here, power is defined as the ability of people and their communities to control space and resources, to influence the actions and perceptions of others, to hold enemies at bay, to muster otherworldly beings, and to initiate and resist change. What follows is the story of a long and turbulent epoch when North America was contested by many and dominated by none. This story traces how people gained, lost, and, in rare instances, shared power with strangers, creating many new worlds in the process. The book might be best described as a biography of power in North America. The story follows critical action and key turning points across the contested continent, showing how various parts of it became geopolitical hot spots where rivalries intensified and where history turned violently.

Although the book is inclusive, focusing on both European colonists and Native Americans, the usual actors, events, and turning points of American history retreat to the background. The Stamp and Tea Acts, Boston Massacre, and creation of the U.S. Constitution figure only marginally in this history. Indians controlled most of North America, and often they did not know about the exploits of the Europeans beyond their borders. And if they did, they did not care. Instead, the Indigenous peoples were interested in the ambitions and experiences of other Indigenous peoples—the Iroquois, Cherokees, Lakotas, Comanches, Shawnees, and many others.

CONTENTS

Introduction: THE MYTH OF COLONIAL AMERICA

Part One
THE DAWN OF THE INDIGENOUS CONTINENT
(the first seventy millennia)

Chapter 1 THE WORLD ON THE TURTLES BACK

Chapter 2 THE EGALITARIAN CONTINENT

Chapter 3 BLIND CONQUESTS

Part Two
APPEAR AT A DISTANCE LIKE GIANTS
(the long sixteenth century)

Chapter 4 TERRA NULLIUS

Chapter 5 THE POWHATAN EMPIRE

Chapter 6 WARS AT THE WATERS EDGE

Chapter 7 THE PEQUOTS SHALL NO MORE BE CALLED PEQUOTS

Part Three
THE CONTEST FOR THE GREAT AMERICAN INTERIOR
(early and mid-seventeenth century)

Chapter 8 THE RISE OF THE FIVE NATIONS LEAGUE

Chapter 9 ENEMIES OF THE FAITH

Chapter 10 THE POWER OF WEAKNESS

Part Four
THE INDIGENOUS BACKLASH
(late seventeenth century)

Chapter 11 THE ENGLISH AS A LITTLE CHILD

Chapter 12 METACOMS CHALLENGE

Chapter 13 VIRGINIAS CIVIL AND UNCIVIL WARS

Chapter 14 THE GREAT SOUTHWESTERN REBELLION

Part Five
THE ENDURING INDIGENOUS CONTINENT
(early eighteenth century)

Chapter 15 HOLDING THE LINE

Chapter 16 THEY SMELLED LIKE ALLIGATORS

Chapter 17 AN INFINITY OF RANCHERÍAS

Part Six
THE HEART OF THE CONTINENT
(mid- and late eighteenth century)

Chapter 18 MAGIC DOGS

Chapter 19 WARS TO THE END OF THE WORLD

Chapter 20 BRITISH AMERICA BESIEGED

Chapter 21 WORLDLY AND OTHERWORLDLY WARS OF INDEPENDENCE

Chapter 22 A SECOND CHINESE WALL

Part Seven
AMERICAN REVOLUTIONS
(late eighteenth century to early nineteenth century)

Chapter 23 THE AMERICAN CRUCIBLE

Chapter 24 WESTERN PROMISES

Chapter 25 THE WHITE DEVIL WITH HIS MOUTH WIDE OPEN

Part Eight
THE AGE OF EQUESTRIAN EMPIRES
(nineteenth century)

Chapter 26 THE LONG REMOVAL ERA

Chapter 27 THE COMANCHE ASCENDANCY

Chapter 28 THE LAKOTA SHIELD

Epilogue:REVENGE AND REVIVAL

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

NOTES

ILLUSTRATION CREDITS

INDEX


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