Settling terraqueous landscapes: Sean Fraga, ‘Steam power, native labor, and contested terraqueous mobilities during American settlement of Puget Sound, 1846–1873’, Mobilities, 2022


Abstract: During U.S. colonization of the mid-nineteenth-century coastal Pacific Northwest, Native peoples and white American settlers used canoes and steamboats to imagine and sustain multiple overlapping mobilities within the same territory. Native peoples’ persistent mobility disrupted and delayed American colonization. Analyzing historical descriptions of mobility enables us to recover how Natives and non-Natives (primarily American settlers and U.S. officials) understood connections between technology, mobility, the environment, and power. A terraqueous approach highlights connections between land and water. While settlers routinely relied on Native canoe pullers to traverse Pacific Northwest waters into the mid-1870s, many resented this dependence and saw Native mobility as impeding U.S. colonization. Settlers imagined steamboats would let them control their own movements and those of Native peoples. Instead, steamboats became another way Native people integrated settlers into existing Native networks. Today, Pacific Northwest Native peoples have deliberately re-framed canoe mobility as a contemporary articulation of Native identity and sovereignty. Studying terraqueous mobility in a coastal border region offers fresh insights into the ways settler colonialism works (or tries to work) by revealing the importance of mobile Native labor as both an element of and an obstacle to settler colonization.

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