Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America

Michael John Witgen. Omohundro Institute and Univ. of North Carolina, $34.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4696-6484-2
Historian Witgen, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, examines in this searing account the “massive transfer of wealth from Native peoples to white American settlers” that occurred in the Northwest Territory in the 19th century. Though this transfer occurred without significant military conflict, Witgen argues that the “involuntary or coercive process” of treaty-making “created a political economy of plunder” that benefited white settlers, traders, and territorial officials while divesting Native nations, particularly the Anishinaabeg, of their land. White proponents of the treaties, including Michigan governor and U.S. secretary of war Lewis Cass, argued that Indigenous people weren’t entitled to keep their land because they hadn’t converted it into private property. While many Anishinaabeg were able to avoid forced removal to Indian Territory, cash payments for the territory they ceded often ended up in the hands of merchants and other “white interlocutors” who had married Native women. Noting the irony that Michigan’s Osceola County was named for a Seminole warrior who resisted U.S. expansion into Florida, Witgen explains how “including the noble dead into the story of America’s creation... obfuscated the exclusion of living Indians from the social contract that the Republic extended to white citizen-settlers.” Though repetitive at times, Witgen’s incisive and deeply researched study lays bare the mechanisms of this historical land grab. Illus. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/27/2021
Release date: 01/01/2022
Genre: Nonfiction
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