Living with strangers, the nineteenth-century Sioux and the Canadian-American borderlands

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McCrady, David Grant
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The nineteenth-century Sioux are best conceptualized as a borderlands people. They made tremendous tactical use of their proximity to different groups of Europeans. Sioux in the Upper Mississippi Valley supported French traders during the early eighteenth century, but quickly accepted British ones after the British conquest of New France in 1763. To protect this trade and to prevent the encroachment of American traders onto Sioux lands, their young men fought alongside the British during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. At the conclusion of the latter war, some Sioux groups travelled to St Louis to sign treaties of peace with the United States government, while others, who wished to remain trading partners of the British, were regular, if often unwelcome, visitors to the British colony on the Red River of the North. Dakotas who travelled to the Red River Settlement often came into conflict over buffalo with the Metis. Yet peaces were sometimes made which laid the foundation for Sioux-Metis trade. Dakotas, Yanktonais and Lakotas all profited from their trade in buffalo products and contraband arms and ammunition with the Metis from the north. Dakotas from Minnesota used the boundary as a shield against the United States Army after the Dakota Conflict of 1862. As members of the borderlands community, Dakota and Yanktonai leaders petitioned Indian agents and other government officials in both Canada and the United States for goods and land. When Sitting Bull and other Lakota leaders took their followers north to Canada following the Great Sioux War of 1876/77, their pathway was already in place and well travelled. Throughout the history of their interaction with incoming national powers, the Sioux used their position in the borderlands as a tool to improve their lives. Historical problems, when defined by modern political boundaries in North America, limit the kinds of questions and approaches we bring to the study of aboriginal history, while a borderlands perspective offers new vistas and new conclusions. Borderlands people like the Sioux used the Canada-United States boundary for their own purposes. For that reason, studying these experiences offers fresh perspectives on the ways in which aboriginal peoples responded to settler societies.