I started reading Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s at the beach this week. So far it's an excellent book that has given me a lot to think about. But there was one line in it that agitated a pet peeve of mine: the way we infantilize Native Americans, particularly those living in the vicinity of the Ohio territory in the early republic period.
The first chapter, speaking of the Ohio territory, the authors write "Its [Congress's] ability to develop this land, however, was threatened by several factors: the free flow of squatter-settlers into southern Ohio, opposition from indigenous peoples who were surprised to learn they had just been defeated in the Revolutionary war, and the retention by the British of frontier forts from which they could encourage resident tribes to resist American expansion."
The indigenous people did not just lose the Revolutionary war, of course. Shortly before that war, though, they lost the French and Indian War and I guarantee you that was not news to those indigenous peoples. It was called the "French and Indian War" because we fought the French and the Indians, who worked together very closely to harass British colonists. We made overtures to certain tribes but it didn't come to much. Almost all of them quite decidedly allied with the French, and with the French they fought an extremely bloody and expensive war against us. And they ended up losing.
Why is it that no one gets teary-eyed over the fact that Canada became British territory after that war, but when it comes to Ohio somehow by the 1790s its like the war never happened???
Unfortunately, I think it's beause we as a society infantilize Native Americans and we prefer to treat them as something other than regular human beings just like the rest of us. My maternal grandfather's family has a lot of French Canadian in it. Needless to say they weren't treated particularly well after that war. Many (not my relatives) fled down the Mississippi at that time for precisely that reason (ever notice that "Cajun" sounds an awful lot like how a Cajun would pronounce "Acadian"?). There's absolutely no ambiguity about the fact that the French in Canada were beat in the 1760s and that that had territorial consequences. The fact that Canada became British isn't considered illegitimate at all. Why do we treat the Native Americans of the Ohio territory, who made the exact same gamble as the French, any differently?
I don't understand.
That's not to say that territorial expansion isn't a sad part of human history - it is. And it's definitely not to say that all our dealings with the Native American population are as legitimate as this. I have a lot more sympathy for some of the tribes farther west. But we had clear borders, the French and the Native Americans regularly encroached on those borders, we had a war over it, and the Americans won. The French and the Native Americans are in the exact same boat on that one, and if you can talk about "British Canada" without batting and eye, then you better be prepared to talk about "British Ohio" in the same way.
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