Lines Drawn Upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands

Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press
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The First Nations who have lived in the Great Lakes watershed have been strongly influenced by the imposition of colonial and national boundaries there. The essays in Lines Drawn upon the Water examine the impact of the Canadian—American border on communities, with reference to national efforts to enforce the boundary and the determination of local groups to pursue their interests and define themselves. Although both governments regard the border as clearly defined, local communities continue to contest the artificial divisions imposed by the international boundary and define spatial and human relationships in the borderlands in their own terms.

The debate is often cast in terms of Canada’s failure to recognize the 1794 Jay Treaty’s confirmation of Native rights to transport goods into Canada, but ultimately the issue concerns the larger struggle of First Nations to force recognition of their people’s rights to move freely across the border in search of economic and social independence.

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About the author

Excerpt from Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands edited by Karl S. Hele

From the Introduction by Karl S. Hele

Borders are lived experiences. While non-Natives and Natives regularly cross to and from the United States and Canada for pleasure or work, real differences in culture and experience can significantly set apart the lives of people living along one side of a border from those living a mere drive across it. The simple experience of transiting the border will not be the same for all. For instance, those living in the Sault Ste. Marie or Windsor-Detroit borderlands regularly engage in what is officially deemed to be the smuggling of goods and services across the border. This is such a lived experience that from youth we are trained not to volunteer unsolicited information and to understate the reasons for a brief foray across the international line. If the border guard fails to ask about alcohol or other goods in the trunk, few are apt to declare its presence. Likewise, we learn that wearing newly acquired clothing even for a few minutes creates a fiction to relieve the burden of paying duties because the clothes are now used. Such calculations and actions, while commonplace among borderland residents, can shock and occasionally appall those who did not grow up near the border. Their experiences are far less likely to have equipped them with the repertoire of half and hidden truths that often underlie the responses of borderland residents to the routine questions of grim-faced border guards. Borders, however, are relevant far beyond the simple daily movement of goods and individuals; these demarcations--particularly those in the Great Lakes--divide families, communities, and cultures. The multiplicity of borders include not only the line separating Canada and the United States but also the lines drawn between sovereign First Nations' territories and settler societies, as well as those frontiers that we draw between ourselves based on perceived differences.

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Additional Information

Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press
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Published on
Sep 30, 2008
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History / Native American
Political Science / International Relations / General
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / Native American Studies
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