Beyond conquest: Native peoples and the struggle for history by Amy E. Den Ouden

By Amy E. Den Ouden

Through targeting the advanced cultural and political points of local resistance to encroachment on reservation lands in the course of the eighteenth century in southern New England, past Conquest reconceptualizes indigenous histories and debates over homeland rights. As Amy E. Den Ouden demonstrates, Mohegans, Pequots, and Niantics dwelling on reservations in New London County, Connecticut—where the most important indigenous inhabitants within the colony resided—were below siege by way of colonists who hired a variety of ability to expropriate reserved lands. Natives have been additionally subjected to the guidelines of a colonial govt that sought to strictly keep an eye on them and that undermined fatherland rights through depicting reservation populations as culturally and politically illegitimate. even if colonial strategies of rule occasionally incited inner disputes between local men and women, reservation groups and their leaders engaged in refined and infrequently overt acts of resistance to dispossession, hence demonstrating the facility of ancient recognition, cultural connections to land, and ties to neighborhood family members. The Mohegans, for instance, boldly challenged colonial authority and its land encroachment guidelines in 1736 by means of maintaining a “great dance,” in which they publicly affirmed the management of Mahomet and, with the help in their Pequot and Niantic allies, articulated their cause to proceed their criminal case opposed to the colony. Beyond Conquest demonstrates how the present Euroamerican scrutiny and denial of neighborhood Indian identities is a convention with an extended background in southern New England, one associated with colonial notions of cultural—and eventually “racial”—illegitimacy that emerged within the context of eighteenth-century disputes relating to fatherland rights.

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22 The “promises” of colonial and Euro-American law worked to legitimize and naturalize notions like “red and white territory”: “white territory” being necessarily an ever-expanding, unlimited [17], (17) living space required by a flourishing “civilization,” while “red territory” was thus “naturally” constricted and diminishing. Not incidentally, then, ideas about the naturalness of cultural boundaries or the inevitability of what has been called “culture clash” have served to mask raw colonial power and to obscure the fact that its multiple cultural expressions – such as the reservation system and colonial law itself – sustained relations of domination and justified processes of dispossession.

But the reservation still possessed power and rage, magic and loss, joys and jealousy. The reservation tugged at the lives of its Indians, stole from them in the middle of the night, watched impassively as the horses and salmon disappeared. But the reservation forgave, too” (Alexie 1995:96). Alexie’s words, like the petitions of eighteenth-century reservation communities, urge us to dispense with the notion that the existence of reservations reflects a gesture of “fairness” on the part of colonizing powers or, more preposterously, that they reflect an effort to “protect” Native peoples and their land rights.

The reservation overseers were not simply contending with the insidious administrative task of “racial classification” for individual members of the reservation community (that is, of assessing their identity in terms of the mutually exclusive Euro-American categories “Indian” and “Negro”). Indeed, what was to be done with this collectivity – the Pequot reservation community that was reconstituting itself ? As these reports suggest, what was troublesome for government officials was that Pequots – impoverished and desperate as their circumstances were throughout the eighteenth century – had produced and sustained kin and community ties on their own terms, and in the face of a history that had demanded their annihilation.

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