Blog #3 – The Great Lakes as a Place of Conflict

“It’s not just one community, its 63% of our communities who don’t have access to clean drinking water”
– Native American speaker during the Q & A session.

The disjunction between what was being scientifically reported about the conditions of the lake as generally positive**  and the reality that Native American’s were living in shocked me. It was also pretty ironic that, while the conference planners “honored” the Natives (even giving them a whole 10 minutes to talk) by first acknowledging that this land belongs(ed?) to the indigenous populations. There was something haunting about the contrast between the rhetoric around respecting aboriginals and the Native American woman who spoke at the Q & A.

Attending the conference it becomes easy to forget that, since Europeans have landed on the continent, the Great Lakes have been, not only a place for commerce and cooperation, but also a contesting territory of instrumental importance for both natives and settlers. What I want to explore further is the place of the Lakes as a setting for conflict, both on the water itself and in the regions which depended upon it for sustenance. Control over and knowledge of the Great Lakes certainly meant control over a region.

Furthermore I could relate this contentious historical point with the condition that Natives of the Great Lake regions find themselves in today- how many have been deprived of their natural hunting grounds and drinking water, and how their society in relation to the lake has been damaged by this legacy of colonial conflict in the Great Lake region. This is something that I know nearly nothing about but I am greatly interested in from other Aboriginal histories I have read of in Latin America. The abusive history of Native Americans is not a memory which is often discussed, even being almost completely absent in textbooks and classrooms.

Doing a library search, some books of further interest to me include

Masters of empire : Great Lakes Indians and the making of America /

Michael A. McDonnell.

Lines drawn upon the water : First Nations and the Great Lakes borders and borderlands /

Karl S. Hele,

Contested territories : Native Americans and non-natives in the lower Great Lakes, 1700-1850 /
 edited by Charles Beatty-Medina and Melissa Rinehart.

**Note: (let’s be real here, the poor-fair-good distinction was pretty meaningless, especially because one area (Lake Superior) was so non-polluted while another (Lake Ontario) was on the other end of the scale. When they averaged out they resulted in a pretty meaningless “fair” grade)

2 Responses to “Blog #3 – The Great Lakes as a Place of Conflict”

  1. Interesting observation and proposal, Janet. Throughout history, the Great Lakes have certainly been strategic locations. “Control over and knowledge of the Great Lakes certainly meant control over a region” rings true, as Fort Frontenac (or Kingston today), for example, is located at the crossroads of Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Due to its location, it could control the traffic in eastern North America.

    Regarding aboriginal history, it’s great that you have found a few books for us to read. While the British and French perspectives have always been touched upon in courses about the history of Canada, I find that very rarely do we get to see the aboriginal perspective.

  2. It’s interesting to think that perhaps we are the “invasive species” perhaps the worst that has affected the Great Lakes. European colonization of North America came with a lot of appropriation and overall displacement of the indigenous populations. This is a side of history that tends to be grazed over. As seen during the conference as you mentioned began with a native speaker perhaps to display the sense of recognition but the issue within Native American societies had to ultimately be asked and suggested to attain attention because it was not something originally addressed. Though it feels like we are making strides in aiding aboriginal communities it is still clear that we still have a long way to go.

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