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Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America (2022)

Tekijä: Pekka Hämäläinen

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
365470,819 (4.24)9
History. Military. Nonfiction. HTML:

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
New York Times Book Review ? 100 Notable Books of 2022
Best Books of 2022 ?? New Yorker, Kirkus Reviews
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence

"I can only wish that, when I was that lonely college junior and was finishing Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I'd had Hämäläinen's book at hand." ??David Treuer, The New Yorker
"[T]he single best book I have ever read on Native American history." ??Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times Book Review
A prize-winning scholar rewrites 400 years of American history from Indigenous perspectives, overturning the dominant origin story of the United States.

There is an old, deeply rooted story about America that goes like this: Columbus "discovers" a strange continent and brings back tales of untold riches. The European empires rush over, eager to stake out as much of this astonishing "New World" as possible. Though Indigenous peoples fight back, they cannot stop the onslaught. White imperialists are destined to rule the continent, and history is an irreversible march toward Indigenous destruction.

Yet as with other long-accepted origin stories, this one, too, turns out to be based in myth and distortion. In Indigenous Continent, acclaimed historian Pekka Hämäläinen presents a sweeping counternarrative that shatters the most basic assumptions about American history. Shifting our perspective away from Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, the Revolution, and other well-trodden episodes on the conventional timeline, he depicts a sovereign world of Native nations whose members, far from helpless victims of colonial violence, dominated the continent for centuries after the first European arrivals. From the Iroquois in the Northeast to the Comanches on the Plains, and from the Pueblos in the Southwest to the Cherokees in the Southeast, Native nations frequently decimated white newcomers in battle. Even as the white population exploded and colonists' land greed grew more extravagant, Indigenous peoples flourished due to sophisticated diplomacy and leadership structures.

By 1776, various colonial powers claimed nearly all of the continent, but Indigenous peoples still controlled it??as Hämäläinen points out, the maps in modern textbooks that paint much of North America in neat, color-coded blocks confuse outlandish imperial boasts for actual holdings. In fact, Native power peaked in the late nineteenth century, with the Lakota victory in 1876 at Little Big Horn, which was not an American blunder, but an all-too-expected outcome.

Hämäläinen ultimately contends that the very notion of "colonial America" is misleading, and that we should speak instead of an "Indigenous America" that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. The evidence of Indigenous defiance is apparent today in the hundreds of Native nations that still dot the United States and Canada. Necessary reading for anyone who cares about America's past, present, and future, Indigenous Continent restores Native peoples to their rightful place at the… (lisätietoja)

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näyttää 4/4
I read the first few chapters and then decided that I really don't want to hear from a white man who claims that his book "offers a broad Indigenous view of the conflict," as Hamalainen says in the introduction. Even assuming the scholarship is sound (I don't have any reason to think it isn't), people from colonizing cultures should probably refrain from speaking on behalf of those they have colonized. I wondered what Native scholars have to say about Hamalainen's work, found this: https://www.lakotatimes.com/articles/slow-reading-finlands-version-of-lakota-his...
  GwenRino | Feb 12, 2024 |
Armed and Ready

History holds many subtle ironies for those of us willing to set aside our preconceptions and look at the facts for what they are.

Take the conquest of N. America by the European powers.

Before Jarod Dymond came along with his blockbuster hit "Guns, Germs, and Steel," most of us thought the Europeans came to the Americas and won over indigenous peoples with a combination of their guile and civilization over a largely empty wilderness.

Dymond said quite rightfully that the most effective tool Europeans had were their antibodies over disease that the local people didn't have. The diseases the Europeans introduced into the Americas felled the indigenous people by the millions. Small pox, yellow fever, and cholera, diseases Europeans had largely learned to live with.

Then the Europeans used their guns and steel to finish them off.

But it wasn't an empty wilderness. Even after small pox weakened the many aboriginal communities, neither guns nor the steel finished them off. In some sense, the table was frequently turned.

The conquest of N. America didn't happen quite as quickly as we are led to believe, nor is it even complete today as First Nations learn to adapt to the new social environment and rebuild their communities.

In this very educational history of the indigenous continent we are reminded that the European powers made every effort to share their technologies with indigenous people in exchange for furs. And the Indians often played the warring European powers off against each other. Quite consciously.

The European powers gave their indigenous allies guns a) because the guns yielded the highest number of furs; and b) because the guns made the indigenous peoples very useful allies in wars against their competitors.

The indigenous peoples, for their art, came to appreciate the guns. The guns gave them leverage over their competitors.

But not only guns. The European powers re-introduced the horse whom the Plains Indians put to great use.

In fact, the sharing of European technology helped indigenous people prolong their hold over the land and resources.

And the so-called "empty wilderness" was in fact peopled by empires such as what the Iroquois built in the Northeast, the Lakota in the Midwest, and the brilliant Comanche in the South and Southwest to name a few.

The means with which these communities built their communities was largely built on relationships: the bond of kin, not the bond of gold. This is one way we so grievously misunderstood the indigenous people of N. America.

It was, in fact, the practices of Eastern farmers that destroyed the land and so antagonized Indian farms. Their pigs and cows. Their fences. And their wasteful farm practices. And it was the indiscriminate logging for fuel that devastated the forests, fuel that in England was worth many fortunes.

Because land was so much cheaper than labour eastern colonists entered into the trans-Atlantic trade with a poor regard for the land. Their farm technology was backward compared to the three sisters approach used by the Indians. Squash, corn, and beans in the indigenous died was far superior to what the colonists were breeding.

When I think of the terror under which the New England colonists and later Ohio settlers lived, the power the indigenous people yielded is sobering. Yes, at first they were terrified of the knives and the tomahawks. But the guns magnified the threat.

Even without the threat posed by the imported millions of black slaves, early Americans learned to viscously hate Indians and idolize their weapons, a heritage that lingers with Americans today. Idolization of the early militias derived from the power early Americans found in taking the law into their own hands when they saw that their national government was too weak to eradicate the Indian.
If anything, it has been the indigenous appreciation of technology that made them a terrible foe and very much still in the game ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
For someone who is unfamiliar with North American history, this is a wide ranging, but frustrating summary of the slow expansion of European power into the land occupied by the indigenous nations.
As a British reader looking for an incisive overview, I found this book lacking, as Hämäläinen provides too much seemingly inessential and distracting detail. It is like Hämäläinen is so busy describing the trees that I had difficulty seeing the wood.
This is an impressive book, and during the couple of weeks reading I have engaged in much mental argument with the author, so I rate it highly. Although I may wish the book had been clearer, perhaps its seemingly unnecessary detail has made it memorable.

In the first section, I found the explanation of the short period required for Spanish colonisation of Central and South America, compared to the much more sporadic colonisation of North America, persuasive.
I would have appreciated greater discussion of the impact of European diseases on indigenous populations, although statements about the decimation of various indigenous nations are mentioned from time to time.
The book could have benefited from more maps to easily locate the settlements discussed, and summaries at the beginning or end of chapters to help fix the overlapping time frames for the colonisation (and trading) attempts of the Spanish, French, English and Dutch at various points on the eastern seaboard. By chapter 13, as discussion of the various European colonists and Indigenous Nations overlap both in territory and time, I lost my ability to make sense of Hämäläinen’s overarching argument, other than that there were confusing territorial conflicts. I know that history is just one thing after another, but I read a popular history book to guide me through the many particulars to see general trends. Hämäläinen’s history suffers from trying to provide too many particulars, without then pulling together the narrative to clearly explain the results.
I also became critical of Hämäläinen’s opinions. For example, in chapter 12 regarding Metacom’s wars with the New Englanders in the 1670’s, he offers the opinion that:
The carnage that the English exacted on the Native Americans was a sign of weakness, not strength. The Puritans had lived in fear of the Indians, conscious of the fact that the Indians knew the landscape better and could outfight them everywhere, whether in swamps, the woods, and even their own towns.
When he has just stated that:
At least three thousand Native men, women, and children had been killed, nearly seventy percent of Metacom's and Weetamoo's peoples, and perhaps two thousand left the region.
But that:
New England had lost six hundred soldiers, roughly ten percent of the total number, and at least a thousand colonists had died facing Indian soldiers, whom the English branded savages. The colony suffered the loss of a staggering €150,000 in property at a time when €100 was a very comfortable yearly salary.

From my reading, his statements about indigenous and colonist losses do not support his opinion about indigenous superiority.

Chapter 18, Magic Dogs, explained the impact of the introduction of horses to the Indigenous Nations. I think that Hämäläinen could have usefully expanded this to more clearly explain the changing political structure of the Indigenous Nations.

To me, chapters 19 to 22 are critical to understanding how the previous containment of the European colonies to the Eastern seaboard of North America was broken. Hämäläinen does explain this, and its importance, but he again spends too much time discussing particulars, without giving this reader a clear understanding of the bigger picture. I don’t know whether this is the case, as I am a lay reader, but it may well be that Hämäläinen should have spent time explaining that the Indigenous Nations successful policy of playing one colonial power off against another to contain encroachment upon the Indigenous Nations lands was implemented piecemeal, and so when the conflict became larger, the individual Indigenous Nations could not maintain this approach. In any case, this approach may be something that is being imposed in retrospect upon the Indigenous Nations.

We arrive at chapter 23, the beginning of the United States of America, and there seems to be a disconnect between Hämäläinen’s description of the political position from Washington and the actual situation on the ground. Also with Hämäläinen’s seemingly contradictory analysis of the situation in the early 1790’s, when he writes:
• The Indians attacked before dawn [4 November 1791]. They were protecting not only their land but also their children, and there could be no margin of error. A vicious fight that lasted three hours drove the U.S. soldiers into a wild retreat. The U.S. casualty rate was an astonishing 97.4 percent the worst defeat of colonists and Americans in all the Indian wars of the colonies and the young republic. The panicked soldiers left behind most of their munitions and provisions. By the end of 1791, all the states on the Atlantic coast except Georgia had abandoned the fiction that their borders stretched to the western edge of the country at the Mississippi River.
• To effectively wage a war on the Indian Confederacy, Washington would have needed $200,000 a year a sum that the Treasury simply could not deliver.
• Washington ordered the U.S. Army to destroy the resisting Indians and capture as many women and children as possible. Unable to defeat the allied Indians in battle, the president of the United States relied on terror and total war, targeting noncombatants, fields, orchards, and trade centers.
• The Indians seemed far better organized and more authoritative than the Americans. The Indian Confederacy mobilized hundreds of soldiers, and the British built a new fort on the Maumee to support their Native allies.
• The U.S. government was spending $1 million a year to fight the Indian Confederacy far beyond George Washington's imaginings only a few years earlier. Realizing that he could not win a prolonged conflict, Wayne marched his army, "The Legion of the United States," comprising more than three thousand troops, directly into the heart of the Indigenous Ohio Country. It would be a dirty war. The march set the tone: there would be no quarter, just bloodshed. U.S. troops burned cornfields, destroyed towns, and killed women and children. The tactic was both a strategy and a reassertion of U.S. hegemony. When Wayne forced a battle at Fallen Timbers near Fort Miami and won it, the Indian Confederacy was reeling.
• Shawnee, Lenape, and Miami leaders focused on evacuating women and children, abandoned their towns, and retreated down the Maumee, seeking refuge among the British at Fort Miami. Fearing American retaliation, though, the British refused to let them in. It was a crushing betrayal that left the Indian Confederacy exposed. The alliance collapsed, and its members withdrew into their respective realms in the Ohio Country. Capturing something of the critical moment, Knox wrote about "the utter extirpation of nearly all the Indians in the most populous parts of the Union. A future historian may mark the causes of this destruction of the human race in sable colors." British officials in London began to fear that the Indian war in North America was compromising Britain's war effort against the revolutionary France.
• Exhausted by wars that had lasted nearly four decades, and satisfied with British support, Little Turtle and the Shawnee sachem Black Hoof agreed to a treaty, as did the Wyandot, Lenape, Shawnee, Odawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Miami, Kickapoo, Ojibwe, and Kaskaskia leaders. Yet when the Indians learned the specifics of the Treaty of Greenville, they were horrified. Their domain had shrunk to a swath in the northwestern corner of the Ohio Country, 150 miles north of the Ohio River. The rest two-thirds of the Ohio Country was opened to American settlement. The United States, emerging as a full-fledged colonial regime, also reserved the exclusive right to buy the remaining lands of the Ohio Indians.

So we move from a position where the Indigenous Nations seem to have control, to one where, under military duress, they cede two thirds of the Ohio Country to the USA. There will be more nuance than this, but Hämäläinen doesn’t clearly convey this, just the confusion. For me, Hämäläinen doesn’t sufficiently explain how the USA government and the Indigenous Nations play treaty catch up with the land grab by a seemingly overwhelming number of individual settlers.

Again, at the end of chapter 26, Hämäläinen states that:
By the middle of the nineteenth century, in the aftermath of the coerced mass removals, Indigenous America as a whole had shifted westward. Almost one hundred thousand Indians had been expelled from east of the Mississippi, spawning an entirely new Indigenous world to the river's west. The Native reservations were a sign of American weakness, not strength.
The United States simply lacked the capacity to defeat and domesticate the Indians or, as its experience with the predominant Lakotas had shown, even the power to keep them at bay.

I don’t follow the author’s logic, as to me it appears that the USA was gradually moving the Indigenous Nations west, and claiming more land for the USA.

During and after the American Civil War, with the coming of the railroads, Hämäläinen notes how the USA moved to forcibly settle the remaining Indigenous Nations in reservations.
But as Hämäläinen also notes, Indigenous Nations still preserve their heritage and traditions on reservations to this day, and although the USA may still seek to “civilise”, the Indigenous Nations continue to resist. ( )
2 ääni CarltonC | Jan 22, 2023 |
The Truth Told Slant

In Indigenous Continent, Pekka Hämäläinen gives a thorough presentation of the facts about the interactions between Native Americans and European colonists in "North America" (by which he seems to mean just that portion of the landmass to the north of present-day Mexico). He then interprets those facts in support of his declared thesis that indigenous peoples dominated this region until the late 1800s. He seems to also be interested in defending an unstated thesis that the natives were the good guys and the whites were the bad guys.

Hämäläinen does a stellar job presenting the facts and defending his official thesis, but I found his allocation of blame and credit to be unconvincing. Some details:

1) Hämäläinen leaves little room for the idea that Indians didn't believe in the possession of land. "The swampy protrusion [that would become Jamestown] had no settlements, but it belonged to the Powhatan Empire". (p. 59) "The Mohawks . . . set out to . . . monopolize the beaver-hunting grounds around the [St. Lawrence Valley]". (p. 91) "For their part, the formidable Six Nations claimed the Ohio Country by the right of conquest". (p. 266) "Benjamin Franklin wrote, 'I know of nothing so liable to bring on a serious quarrel with the Indians, as invasion of their property.'" (p. 292)

2) After presenting material that shines a negative light on Native Americans, Hämäläinen is typically eager to jump in and defend them. The brutal fate awaiting war captives who were unfortunate enough to become "ritual adoptees" of the Iroquois is described, but Hämäläinen reassures us that "the Iroquois conducted these ceremonies not because they clamored for war but because they wanted peace." (p. 105) Immediately after telling us that "The Five Nations . . . embraced subjugated enemies . . . as 'women'", he says that it's okay because the "seemingly insulting gendered metaphors tied nations together as allies." (p. 120). "In 1822, at Prairie du Chien, a newly established borough council passed a law against White people 'skulking or sneaking about after 10 oclock at night'", but although the "new law had a clear racial element, . . . it was designed to preserve a pluralistic world." (p. 386)

3) For all the evil inflicted by each side upon the other, Hämäläinen almost exclusively reserves words like "genocidal" for that perpetrated by whites. Governor-General Jeffery Amherst's proposal to give smallpox infected blankets to the Indians is "biological warfare", but when the Ojibwes hack 15 British soldiers to death with hatchets, they are merely "[issuing] a warning with violence". (p. 291) "During the period between the incidents at Mankato and Sand Creek, the United States had become a genocidal regime", but when the Lakotas warned that they would "destroy all the whites in the country", that's not called a genocidal declaration. (p. 439)

4) Hämäläinen says: "The apocalyptic Wounded Knee Massacre was a sign of American weakness and fear." (p. 459) This is not the only place where he attributes to "weakness" a show of force by the whites, but I can't recall him putting a similar gloss on indigenous actions. ( )
1 ääni cpg | Jan 16, 2023 |
näyttää 4/4
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History. Military. Nonfiction. HTML:

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
New York Times Book Review ? 100 Notable Books of 2022
Best Books of 2022 ?? New Yorker, Kirkus Reviews
Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence

"I can only wish that, when I was that lonely college junior and was finishing Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I'd had Hämäläinen's book at hand." ??David Treuer, The New Yorker
"[T]he single best book I have ever read on Native American history." ??Thomas E. Ricks, New York Times Book Review
A prize-winning scholar rewrites 400 years of American history from Indigenous perspectives, overturning the dominant origin story of the United States.

There is an old, deeply rooted story about America that goes like this: Columbus "discovers" a strange continent and brings back tales of untold riches. The European empires rush over, eager to stake out as much of this astonishing "New World" as possible. Though Indigenous peoples fight back, they cannot stop the onslaught. White imperialists are destined to rule the continent, and history is an irreversible march toward Indigenous destruction.

Yet as with other long-accepted origin stories, this one, too, turns out to be based in myth and distortion. In Indigenous Continent, acclaimed historian Pekka Hämäläinen presents a sweeping counternarrative that shatters the most basic assumptions about American history. Shifting our perspective away from Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, the Revolution, and other well-trodden episodes on the conventional timeline, he depicts a sovereign world of Native nations whose members, far from helpless victims of colonial violence, dominated the continent for centuries after the first European arrivals. From the Iroquois in the Northeast to the Comanches on the Plains, and from the Pueblos in the Southwest to the Cherokees in the Southeast, Native nations frequently decimated white newcomers in battle. Even as the white population exploded and colonists' land greed grew more extravagant, Indigenous peoples flourished due to sophisticated diplomacy and leadership structures.

By 1776, various colonial powers claimed nearly all of the continent, but Indigenous peoples still controlled it??as Hämäläinen points out, the maps in modern textbooks that paint much of North America in neat, color-coded blocks confuse outlandish imperial boasts for actual holdings. In fact, Native power peaked in the late nineteenth century, with the Lakota victory in 1876 at Little Big Horn, which was not an American blunder, but an all-too-expected outcome.

Hämäläinen ultimately contends that the very notion of "colonial America" is misleading, and that we should speak instead of an "Indigenous America" that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. The evidence of Indigenous defiance is apparent today in the hundreds of Native nations that still dot the United States and Canada. Necessary reading for anyone who cares about America's past, present, and future, Indigenous Continent restores Native peoples to their rightful place at the

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