Tag Archives: Aboriginal History

Jim Fergus – One Thousand White Women (1998)


Jim Fergus’ book has so much potential; an alternative history about what would have happened if the United States government had granted the request from the Cheyenne Indians and sent them one thousand white brides. Unfortunately Fergus was not up to the task and this book did not impress me. While I am willing to concede that Fergus is passionate about his subject matter and has clearly done a lot of research on it, his writing style simply made this book almost unbearable.

Firstly the fact that Fergus, as a man, is writing a series of diary entries from a female perspective makes this whole story unbelievable. While I certainly do not know how a woman in May Dodd’s situation would act and think, I also do not believe Jim Fergus is the expert either. Secondly Fergus uses every and stereotype in the book, May Dodd’s husband is the strong silent Indian chief, and May’s compatriots comprise of a set of wily Irish twins, a racist Southern debutante, and a wise and kind Black woman. The cast of clichés sets the book up in an incredibly predictable fashion as May Dodd struggles to adjust to life amongst the Cheyenne’s first viewing them as savage but finally comes to the realization, through falling in love with her husband, that the Indians are no so different from herself.

I have no idea how the book ended as I simply stopped reading but my guess is that everyone is transformed for the better through their experience amongst the Cheyenne.

Elliot West – The Last Indian War (2009)

The Last Indian War

American historiography is stocked full of literature covering the Civil War and Reconstruction. The story of the Nez Perce is also and oft-told one, but in his book The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story, Elliot West seeks to reconsider the history of the United States during the period between 1845 and 1877. For West the phrase “Greater Reconstruction” encompasses two great events in the United States – The Civil War and its consequences, and the movement of Americans into the West – that reconstructed the nation. In revisiting this event West argues that the 1870s conflict between the Nez Perce and the US federal government should be viewed in the broader study of the Greater Reconstruction.

After giving an ethnographic study of the Nez Perce people, West divides his work into three parts. The first details the growing tensions between the Nez Perce and incoming white settlers that let to the outbreak of violence. He discusses white settlers and missionaries, as well as events, such as the Gold Rush, that brought additional settlers to the area. The second and longest sections details the beginning of war on the Idaho-Oregon border in June to the final battle in Montana the following October. During this section of his book, West’s grip on military history is clear. He gives long detailed accounts of the Battles, tactics, and maneuvers that characterized the year at war. The final section deals with the final battle and Indian defeat in Bear’s Paw Mountain, the exile to Kansas and Indian Territory, and the return of the Nez Perce to Idaho and Washington territories in the 1880s. In this section West provides an intense biographical sketch of Joseph, the Nez Perce leader who surrendered to the American government. West details how at the time Joseph received a great deal of press coverage and popularity as he was considered a curiosity.

In his narrative account of the Last Indian War, West makes use of standard military histories, memoirs, congressional records, newspaper and journal articles, and published Nez Perce accounts of the war. The published works compiled by Lucullas McWhorter, who interviewed several survivors of the war, make up an important part of West’s work. In his review of West’s work however, RW Swagerty, criticized West for not making use of new information that continues to surface years later through family oral traditions.

This flaw aside, West summarized the war and significance for the United States by tying it to the greater questions surrounding the Civil War Reconstruction Period, especially questions surrounding the nature of citizenship and how it should extend (if at all) to freed blacks and Native Americans. For West, during these years, ironically the nation became more inclusive of blacks and immigrants, while becoming more exclusive of cultural diversity, especially its indigenous population. This era, he writes, “began in conquest and expanded promise. It unfolded through appalling bloodshed, liberation, consolidation, and cultural assault. It ended with the nation fighting its last Indian war against its most persistently loyal native ally”

West in his narrative on the Last Indian War and the period of Greater Reconstruction seeks to show how the new nation of the United States was emerging and needed to find a place for the non-whites. Unfortunately for the Nez Perce there was no place for them in the new nation.

Presenting On the First World War: Memory and Remembrance

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to present at the Humber Liberal Arts @IFOA Conference, “Representing World War I: Perspectives at the Centenary. The First World War was a monumental event and the way it is remembered is important. Recently it has become important to look at the way the war is remembered by those outside the dominant narrative. The paper I presented on, titled “Red Man On The Warpath”: The Problem of Native Canadian Enlistment During the First World War,  dealt with these themes:

Close to 4,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were of Aboriginal descent, a very high number given the limited civil rights afforded to Aboriginals in the early twentieth century. This number is especially striking given the problems that many Native men faced when attempting to enlist in the war.

When war broke out in 1914, Canada did not have a clear military policy and the Militia Act of 1904 was especially ambiguous regarding the role Aboriginals were to play in the military. Much of this ambiguity was due to the idea at the turn of the century that Aboriginals were “a disappearing race.” Because at the state of the war, recruitment centres were flooded with volunteers, local recruiting officers could afford to be very picky, and most agents would have relied on their own personal prejudices against Natives when considering their attempts to enlist.

This paper will build on much of the scholarly research done on Native Canadian contributions to the war effort, but focus purely on the early days on the way and the problem of recruitment by looking at popular images of Aboriginals in Canada at the time. Within these popular images includes the reoccurring tropes of the “Nobel Savage” or the “Bloodthirsty Redskin.” Local recruiting officers would have accepted or rejected Native recruits based on personal prejudices, which would have been necessarily informed by the dominant images of Native Canadians at the time.

The response to the paper was largely positive and I fielded some really engaging questions from the audience. The question on everyone’s mind however, seemed to be “Why did they fight?” It is a difficult question to answer, and can be applied to almost everyone in the First World War. The truth is I don’t think we’ll ever really know. Native Canadian men enlisted in the First World War to show their support for the crown, to better their own communities, for a sense of adventure, and for many other reasons that we may never be aware of. Not knowing the reasons for enlisting makes remembering the war difficult. We remember those who fought and died, but do we remember what they died for? With the case of the First World War it is quite tricky and the reasons for fighting were not as clear as they would be 20 years later. As many others who spoke mentioned we need to re-evaluate what we remember on November 11th. Yes we remember the Canadians that died in battle, but we also need to remember that they died to ensure a lasting peace. Peace. That is what the remembrance of the First World War, and any war for that matter, should be about.

100 Years of Loss – The Residential School System in Canada

I want to share another interesting post with everyone taken from the University of Toronto’s Museum Studies Blog, Musings As someone who has studied Native Canadian history I found this incredibly interesting to read. It is true that growing up, Aboriginal history was not necessarily a part of our curriculum; you learned that they existed, but that’s about it. Nothing about the tragedies faced. While Native history is not the only thing conveniently left out of grade school curriculums (I did not learn about Japanese internment until high school, or the history of slavery in Canada until university) the “100 Year of Loss Initiative,” is a step in correcting an education system that has largely been Euro-centric.