saliha belmessous edits native claims: indigenous law against empire


Saliha Belmessous, ed., Native Claims: Indigenous Law against Empire (New York and Oxford: OUP, 2011).

This groundbreaking collection of essays shows that, from the moment European expansion commenced through to the twentieth century, indigenous peoples from America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand drafted legal strategies to contest dispossession. The story of indigenous resistance to European colonization is well known. But legal resistance has been wrongly understood to be a relatively recent phenomenon. These essays demonstrate how indigenous peoples throughout the world opposed colonization not only with force, but also with ideas. They made claims to territory using legal arguments drawn from their own understanding of a law that applies between peoples – a kind of law of nations, comparable to that being developed by Europeans. The contributors to this volume argue that in the face of indigenous legal arguments, European justifications of colonization should be understood not as an original and originating legal discourse but, at least in part, as a form of counter-claim. 

Native Claims: Indigenous Law against Empire, 1500-1920 brings together the work of eminent social and legal historians, literary scholars, and philosophers, including Rolena Adorno, Lauren Benton, Duncan Ivison, and Kristin Mann. Their combined expertise makes this volume uniquely expansive in its coverage of a crucial issue in global and colonial history. The various essays treat sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Latin America, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century North America (including the British colonies and French Canada), and nineteenth-century Australasia and Africa. There is no other book that examines the issue of European dispossession of native peoples in such a way.


Introduction: The Problem of Indigenous Claim Making in Colonial History, by Saliha Belmessous

Chapter 1: Possessing Empire: Iberian Claims and Interpolity Law, Lauren Benton

Chapter 2: Law, Land and Legal Rhetoric in Colonial New Spain: A Look at the Changing Rhetoric of Indigenous Americans in the Sixteenth Century, by R. Jovita Baber

Chapter 3: Court and Chronicle: A Native Andean’s Engagement with Spanish Colonial Law, by Rolena Adorno

Chapter 4: Powhatan Legal Claims, by Andrew Fitzmaurice

Chapter 5: Wabanaki versus French and English Claims in Northeastern North America, c. 1715, by Saliha Belmessous

Chapter 6: “Chief Princes and Owners of All”: Native American Appeals to the Crown in the Early Modern British Atlantic, by Craig Yirush

Chapter 7: Framing and Reframing the Agon: Contesting Narratives and Counter-Narratives on Maori Property Rights and Political Constitutionalism, 1840-1861, by Mark Hickford

Chapter 8: “Bring this paper to the Good Governor”: Indigenous Petitioning in Britain’s Australian Colonies, by Ann Curthoys and Jessie Mitchell

Chapter 9: The Native Land Court: Making Property in Nineteenth-Century New Zealand, by Christopher Hilliard

Chapter 10: African and European Initiatives in the Transformation of Land Tenure in Colonial Lagos (West Africa), 1840-1920, by Kristin Mann

Afterword: The Normative Force of the Past, by Duncan Ivison

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