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Posted by Thomas Shevory at 9:12AM   |  Add a comment
Anishnaabeg Lands circa 1800

Thomas Shevory, Ithaca College

This posting is a part of series, written in connection with a bicycle trip that I completed  around Lake Huron, in the Summer 2011, to survey, at 12 miles per hour, the history, culture, ecology, and economic evolution of the region.  While on the trip, I read Phil Bellfy’s Three Fires Unity, a history of the Anishnaabeg people of the Lake Huron region, a book that helps to explain why there are so many more native-held lands and communities on the Canadian side of the lake than the American.

While my home state of New York was, pre-European settlement, dominated by the Haudenosaunee, farther west, in Ohio, Southern Central Ontario, and Michigan, the land that I am currently bicycling through, it was the Anishnaabeg. The French arrived in the 17th century with Jesuit missionaries who attempted, sometimes successfully, to convert native people, but in economic terms, they were primarily interested in the fur trade.

British colonists in the east,  favored agricultural production, and were thus more interested in appropriation, expulsion, and clearing. According to Bellfy, “the Native people of the region regarded the French presence in North America as largely benign.”

Because of their more favorable view of the French, many Native groups, sided with them during the so-called French and Indian War.  But, even after British success in the war, the Anishnaabeg had control over most of their historic lands, which included much of the Great Lakes watershed.  

The British attempted to control the fur trade in these areas with limited success, with the hopes of using revenues derived from it to finance the costs of maintaining control over their North American Empire. Native traders simply ignored British licensing requirements.

Colonists, however, continued to move into these territories, in spite of British attempts to limit their incursions. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix represented a deal between the British Crown and the Haudenosaunee, in which the British would be granted control over Kentucky, in exchange for no further encroachments.  

But colonists were dissatisfied, wanting access to lands farther north and west.  This dissatisfaction helped to fuel an ever-increasing displeasure with British rule.  To enforce the treaty, the British needed revenues, and thus imposed a tax on the American colonists. This tax sparked the Boston Tea Party and helped to instigate the American Revolutionary War.

The conflict between British imperial rulers and American colonists on the status of the Indian Territories is one of the often-overlooked, but important, aspects of the American Revolution. In fact, the Declaration of Independence lists among British “injuries and usurpations,” that, “[The King]  has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

Recognizing the hostility of colonists, and their seeming insatiable desire for land, many native groups sided with the British during the revolution.  Referring to the Anishnaabeg, Belfy notes, “when Native people did fight, it was almost exclusively on the side of the British.” Sullivan’s campaign, and post-war developments, devastated the Haudenosaunee, but the Anishnaabeg,  remained in control over of their territories.  

The Northwest Ordinance, passed by the new government, in 1787, often celebrated for its protection of religious freedom and ban on slavery, was a blueprint for occupying the region and displacing the people that lived there.   Their resistance and British support for it was one of the triggering factors for the War of 1812, a conflict that ended Anishnaabeg hopes of controlling their land in the U.S. As a result, many sought refuge in Canada.  



 


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