Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Northern Plains Borders and the People In Between, 1860-1940

  • Author(s): Hagen, Delia Lee
  • Advisor(s): Klein, Kerwin L
  • Delay, Brian
  • et al.
Abstract

Northern Plains Borders and the People in Between is a transnational history of colonialism and mixed, mobile indigenous people in the borderlands of the northern Great Plains from 1860 to 1940. Based on archival documents from Canada and the United States, it focuses on social, spatial, political and legal developments. It demonstrates that when American and Canadian militaries invaded, they relied on and targeted mixed indigenous communities. Members of these communities were affiliated with tribes across the region, and moved often and far. As they mixed and moved, they were involved in the many different conflicts that wracked the Northern Plains after 1860, and they physically linked period violence in Canada and the United States. Subsequently, both countries incorporated Plains inhabitants through Indian treaties and state status categories that created mutually-exclusive, spatialized legal classifications—American or Canadian, Sioux or Cree, Métis, Indian, citizen, or alien. These classifications conveyed different rights, and status and rights were tightly tied to particular places, like homesteads, or nations or specific Indian reservations. One’s legal status thus had direct material implications, linking boundaries of race, place, tribe, and band to land.

On both sides of the international line, these social and spatial borders criminalized mixture and mobility. With the concurrent spread of allotment and tribal enrollment, many borderlands indigenes were left stateless—they were excluded from every legal category through which Canada and the U.S. allocated status and rights. This study shows how statelessness flowed through prior racial, tribal and spatial classifications—like enrolled member of the U.S. Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indians. It wasn’t just the international boundary that created indigenous statelessness, but the multi-faceted and layered boundary-making of settler colonialism. For indigenous people, tribal membership boundaries, or enrollment, became the most significant aspect of allotment, both in terms of land loss and in terms of enduring community consequences.

This dissertation concludes that statelessness originated not in overseas imperialism but in the earlier colonization of the continent. It also finds that the most critical implications of statelessness were material: stateless indigenes were not just landless, or homeless, but worse—their mere presence was forbidden everywhere. Legally, they had the right to occupy no place, no space. In this context, people contested their statelessness, pursuing legal status, rights and property into the 20th century. This study maps that ongoing political activity and associated mobility, revealing enduring indigenous geographies in a period when Indian people have been considered politically inactive, and reservation-bound. It shows how, into the 1940s, indigenous mixture and movement entwined Canadian and American histories, making them not just parallel but inseparable. Ultimately, it engages discussions of space, power, violence, law and the state as they relate to histories of borderlands, frontiers, and the West, Native Americans, First Nations, immigration and race.

Main Content
Current View