"Survivance" in Space: Mapping Potawatomi Homelands and Settler Invasions in the 19th-Century Great Lakes Region

Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
David Horst Lehman, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This work focuses on the southernmost Anishinaabe in the Council of Three Fires: The Potawatomis. These Algonquin-speaking communities inhabited a prairie-forest mosaic landscape adjacent to Lake Michigan in the modern states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Because of their location and their long agricultural heritage, Potawatomi groups soon became the object of settler demands for agricultural land. There are seven federally recognized Potawatomi nations in the U.S. today: the Citizen Potawatomi in Oklahoma, formerly of the Wabash watershed in Indiana; the Prairie Band Potawatomi in Kansas, formerly of the Illinois watershed in Illinois; the Pokagon, Nottawaseppi Huron, and Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish (Gun Lake) Pottawatomi nations on the east side of Lake Michigan; and the Hannahville and Forest County nations on the west side of the lake. Together, these nations’ land use stories demonstrate the importance of Potawatomi farming in settler-indigenous conflict over land.

The local examples highlighted in this study reveal new patterns within the larger story of U.S. settler colonialism and Potawatomi “survivance” (survival as a form of resistance). The startling directness of competition for agricultural land brings social clashes over race and nationalism down to the ground, literally. Potawatomi farming is a particularly compelling window onto this competition over land because Potawatomi people had cultivated landscapes in the Midwest for generations prior to the arrival of Euorpeans, and their cultivated areas became the focus of settler interest.

I argue that Potawatomi groups’ stewardship work maintained their homeland’s ecologies in ways that shaped both shaped local areas of earth and influenced global conflicts over U.S. imperial expansion. My historical investigation of that stewardship uncovers a story of indigenous agency and cultural persistence that previous narratives of the Midwestern past have overlooked. This work uses primary sources and GIS maps to detail the spatial techniques and outcomes of Potawatomi persistence in the face of settler invasion. This work forms an integrated, innovative account of territorial conflict over Potawatomi homelands with critical implications for indigenous, settler, environmental, and spatial histories.

The poster version of my work details approaches, methods, and outcomes of this spatial approach to understanding Native resistance in the face of settler colonial invasion. The visuals display GIS maps based on historic land sales, surveyor’s records, and soil surveys. These were all part of U.S. imperial expansion in the 19th century Midwest. This project uses that data and additional research to instead highlight Potawatomi strategies for making and maintaining Native spaces in traditional homelands. U.S. empire sought to establish the patent system as a totalizing approach to land rights began in the Northwest Territory. Potawatomi efforts to resist that expansion by surviving in various bands took several different forms. Their various means of success teach us about both local American Indian agency and lasting gaps in the United States’ efforts to “extinguish Indian title.”

See more of: Poster Session #3
See more of: AHA Sessions