Settler colonialism is a gendered mode of domination: Emily Macgillivray, Indigenous Trading Women of the Borderland Great Lakes,1740 to 1845, PhD dissertation, University of Michigan, 2017


Abstract: This dissertation illustrates the role of indigenous trading women in significant events that shaped the borderlands Great Lakes region, including the French and Indian War, the American Revolutionary War, the Northwest Indian War, and treaty negotiations. Understanding the role of Native women traders is necessary to understanding both how these events unfolded and how they were affected by gendered indigenous practices, including kinship and hospitality. These women influenced the flow of commerce by producing and distributing valuable trade goods and contributed to the mapping and enforcement of political borders through their participation in legal conflicts and treaty negotiations. Recognizing the lives of Great Lakes trading women is essential to understanding the intertwined development of economics and politics in the region. Furthermore, ignoring the contributions of indigenous trading women enforces male-centered, settler colonial narratives of the region that demotes the women to the accessories of their EuroAmerican partners. While previous scholarship on gender and the Great Lakes has focused on indigenous women’s role in fur trade marriages, this project examines indigenous women in the Great Lakes borderlands as independent economic and political agents and illustrates how settler colonialism operated as a gendered process. As EuroAmerican settlement increased, customs like coverture were enforced and Native kinship networks and forms of inheritance were eroded, creating fewer opportunities for indigenous women to acquire property. However, elite Native women drew on multiple subversive and gendered forms of resistance, including kinship networks, language skills, and knowledge of trade networks, to attempt to navigate a settler colonial system designed to deny indigenous land claims. This project covers the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century and is grounded in the lives of Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe women who operated as adroit transnational actors in the borderlands Great Lakes, including Sally Ainse (Oneida), Molly Brant (Mohawk), Ozhaguscodaywayquay (Ojibwe), and Magdalene Laframboise (Odawa). While Haudenosaunee women traders in the lower Great Lakes struggled to retain their political influence and control of property amidst intensifying settler colonialism after the turn of the nineteenth century, Anishinaabe women traders maintained their political and economic influence in the upper Great Lakes into the mid-nineteenth century. Indigenous women traders throughout the region were transitional figures of Native survivance who worked to preserve themselves and their families among intensifying settler colonial development in the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. Tracking the lives of indigenous trading women in the Great Lakes borderlands requires a broad territorial focus, including the Susquehanna and Mohawk River Valleys to the south shore of Lake Superior. By demonstrating how Ohio Valley, western Pennsylvania and New York, and the Ontario Peninsula operated as a distinctive lower Great Lakes region, this project demands a reorientation of Great Lakes geography. Trading women’s political and economic networks demonstrate connections between the political and economic systems in the lower and upper Great Lakes, while simultaneously illustrating how each region was gendered differently due to indigenous roles, EuroAmerican marriages customs, and colonialism.

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