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A Finnish Scholar Wants to Change How We See American History

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Americans may know the story of Crazy Horse, the Lakota warrior who routed the U.S. Army at Little Bighorn. eloquent protest His opposition to the forced removal of his people to reservations still reverberates today.

But how many know the story of Popeye, the Pueblo religious leader who rebelled in 1680 and drove the Spaniards out of New Mexico? Is it Opeka, the Sachem of the Shawnee tribe who saved the lives of a tribe accused of murdering settlers in the

Their story is one of many in Finnish historian Pekka Hamalainen’s groundbreaking new book, Indigenous Continents: North America’s Grand Contest. And while they’re fleeting players, they’re hardly footnotes.

Liveright’s “Indigenous Continent,” published Tuesday, aims to recast the narrative of Native American and American history by portraying indigenous peoples not as victims but as powerful actors who deeply shaped the course of events. is.

Professor Hamalainen of the University of Oxford, who has written an eminent history of the Comanche and Lakota, was the first to speak out against the trope of Indians who were “doomed” to be victims of guns and an onslaught of germs. is not a scholar of capitalism. But he goes further.

The conflict between European settlers and Native Americans was “a war for four centuries,” he wrote, “whether the Indians won or not.”

Attached “Indigenous Continent” Support from some leading historiansaims to be a paradigm-breaking book like The New York Times Magazine’s “The 1619 Project” and bestsellers such as David Graeber and David Wengrow’s “The Dawn of Everything.: A New History of Humanity.” I’m here.

Claudio Santo, a historian at the University of Georgia, said: “Pekka belongs to a small but growing group of scholars who are up to the challenge of reimagining the epic narrative of early American history.

And for many readers, he said, “the most astonishing revelation was that the seemingly decisive conquest of the continent was something else altogether.”

Still, Hamalainen’s bold claims are likely to spark debates about evidence, interpretation, and emphasis. Who should write Native American stories and how?

At first glance, a Finnish academic teaching at the University of Oxford might seem like an unlikely candidate. Hamalainen, 55, explained how, like many, he first encountered his native Americans as a child in books and movies in his interview last month on video from his summer cabin outside Helsinki. did. He said he felt something was wrong.

“Westerns were bad at portraying Native Americans,” he said. “I thought, ‘What is going on here?'”

his first book, “Comanche Empire” It offered a thoroughly researched and stunningly new interpretation of the nomadic groups that ruled the Southwest from about 1750 to 1850 (and Hollywood westerns for much of the 20th century), but remained relatively unstudied by scholars.

Published in 2009, the book has received critical acclaim. awards, including the Bancroft Award, one of the most prestigious honors for a professional historian. At that time, Hamalainen was part of a group of scholars working on the basis of so-called research. new indian historyAnd the field keeps exploding. a

Native American actors and more and more questions woven into scholarship, Especially when it comes to colonial America. Today, early American historians focus on the complex interactions between European settlers and Native Americans. I wrote a native community from the storycreating a myth of the “disappearing” Indians.

This mainstreaming of Native history was not without conflict. recent years, sometimes tough debates On the Validity of Western vs. Indigenous Knowledge, and Whether Historians Are Mandated Consult with the modern native community.

Jameson Sweet, a historian at Rutgers University in Lakota/Dakota, said people of all backgrounds could write Indigenous history. I also mentioned the need. “Red Power” Activities in the 1960s and 70s.

“We’re trying to indigenize the field,” Sweet said, adding, “It’s not about putting indigenous peoples under the microscope, but about educating people by striving towards goals like preserving sovereignty.” That’s it,” he added.

Hamalainen’s approach, if not his intention, integrates a vast library of microscopic and often highly specialized scholarship. (Crammed with over 70 pages of footnotes, he said, “Almost killed me.”)

Readers will not encounter familiar landmarks such as the Boston Massacre or the Constitution, and there will be relatively little analysis of treaties and laws. Hamalainen argues that well into the nineteenth century, it demonstrates the fragility of colonial claims to vast continents ruled by “overwhelming and enduring indigenous powers”.

He revisits material from his earlier books on the Lakota and Comanche, including intense descriptions of battles on horseback. He also compiled literature on indigenous peoples of the Northeast, Virginia, Florida, and the Midwest, including the Iroquois (or Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.

he said he was particularly impressed by the Iroquois “War of Grief” Some scholars now argue that it did not begin to secure a larger share of the fur trade, but was rebuilt after a devastating smallpox epidemic brought on by contact with Europeans. .

The Haudenosaunee launched attacks on neighboring groups, absorbing some and pushing others to the west. Hamalainen provocatively calls it “the first large-scale western expansion in early American history.”

“At first glance it looks like blind violence,” he said. “But no. It’s spiritual. And most of the victims became Iroquois citizens. The Iroquois went to war to make other people Iroquois.”

Regarding the confrontation between the natives and the Europeans, Hamalainen repeatedly argues that violent attacks by the settlers are a sign of weakness rather than strength. injured knee In 1890, he argues, “it was an expression of American weakness and fear.”

That claim may be felt by some to be exaggerated or overly focused on military conflicts. Wall Street Journal reviewhistorian Kathleen Duvall questioned Hamalainen’s framing of Indigenous history as “an epic tale about Indigenous peoples fighting European-American men”, questioning how Indigenous peoples acted. Little was said about whether it was included. Kin Network maintained by women.

And the ‘Indigenous Continent’, which quickly ended in the 1890s, leaves big questions. How does this history connect with the present?

This is a question that other scholars have addressed more head-on.of “Rediscovering America: Deconstructing Indigenous Peoples and American History” Yale University historian Ned Blackhawk (Western Shoshone) turns a familiar historical episode inside out while taking the story into the 21st century. (One chapter elaborates on what he calls “the indigenous origins of the American Revolution.”)

Blackhawk, who read an advance copy of “Indigenous Continent”, said Hamalainen was “an important historian of the early American West, studying equestrianism as much as anyone else.”

“But the book’s ability to trace times and eras is limited,” said Blackhawk.

“Indigenous empire” also evokes another concept that might raise eyebrows: empire. In his work on the Comanche and Lakota, Hamalainen characterizes these countries as aggressively expansionist powers, themselves pushing other indigenous peoples aside and often dominating European settlers. rice field. “Decolonialism”

When “Lakota America” ​​came out in 2020, some Lakota scholars objected to its framing, moral equivalence There are even reasons that involve or justify the conquest of Europe. Sweet, Professor Rutgers, Writing in the Journal of the Early Republicsaid the book “exudes a sense of European-American innocence in settler colonialism.”

“Settler colonialism” is rampant (if contested) Terminology of Native American Studies, and Beyond. However, it rarely appears in the “indigenous continent”.

“Settler colonialism did happen, of course,” Hamalainen said, but the term is “sometimes used a little carelessly”. “We should pay attention to the wider range of colonial relations that indigenous communities have had to deal with,” he said.

Regarding the term empire, he argues that thinking about how such “power resonance structures” occur in different times and places “is not the same as implying moral equivalence.” Stated.

Today, North America is home Over 500 Sovereign Indigenous PeoplesIn the epilogue Hamalainen cites Ojibwe author David Troyer’s assertion that after 1776 America became, in some ways, “more Indian”.

“Everything goes back to this 400-year-old war,” says Hamalainen, and indigenous resistance continues.

“I hope the reader understands the stakes in this history,” he said, along with “the ability of Native Americans to change, to fight.”

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