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Cultural Identity and Materiality at French Fort St. Joseph (20BE23), Niles, Michigan

  • Michael S. NassaneyEmail author
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Abstract

Fort St. Joseph was one of many French colonial outposts established throughout the St. Lawrence River valley and the western Great Lakes region in the late 17th to 18th centuries to cultivate alliances with native peoples. The result was an exchange, amalgamation, and reinterpretation of material goods that testify to the close relationships the French maintained with various Native American groups. Yet, closer examination suggests that both the French and natives employed material goods in distinctive ways to ensure survival and promote their interests in the colonial encounter; borrowing was merely an expedient strategy. This interpretation shifts attention away from the amicable relations, altruistic behaviors, and hybridization that researchers previously posited toward an understanding grounded in more pragmatic forms of materiality that agents practice to ensure the persistence of cultural identities under colonialism.

Keywords

fur trade cultural persistence Native American–European interactions colonialism material exchange 

Extracto

Fort St. Joseph fue uno de muchos puestos de avanzada coloniales franceses establecidos a lo largo del valle del río San Lorenzo y la región occidental de los Grandes Lagos a finales de los siglos XVII y XVIII para cultivar las alianzas con los pueblos nativos. El resultado fue un intercambio, amalgama y reinterpretación de los bienes materiales que dan testimonio de la estrecha relación que los franceses mantenían con diversos grupos de nativos americanos. Sin embargo, un examen más detenido indica que tanto los franceses como los nativos empleaban los bienes materiales en distintas formas para asegurar su supervivencia y promover sus intereses en el encuentro colonial; pedirlos prestados fue simplemente una estrategia conveniente. Esta interpretación desvía la atención de las relaciones amistosas, comportamientos altruistas y hibridación que postulaban previamente los investigadores hacia una comprensión que se fundamentaba en formas más pragmáticas de la materialidad que los agentes practican para asegurar la persistencia de sus identidades culturales bajo el colonialismo.

Résumé

Fort St Joseph fut un des nombreux postes avancés coloniaux français établis le long de la vallée du fleuve St-Laurent et de la région ouest des Grands Lacs de la fin du 17e siècle au 18e siècle, pour promouvoir les alliances avec les peuples autochtones. Le résultat fut un échange, une amalgamation et une réinterprétation des biens matériels qui témoignent des relations étroites que les Français entretenaient avec divers groupes d’Amérindiens. Un examen plus poussé révèle toutefois que les Français et Autochtones employaient ces biens de façons distinctes pour assurer leur survie et favoriser leurs propres intérêts durant ces échanges coloniaux, les emprunts n’étant qu’une stratégie de circonstance. Cette interprétation détourne l’attention des relations amicales, comportements altruistes et hybridations autrefois utilisés par les chercheurs pour comprendre des formes de matérialité plus pragmatiques, dont les agents se servaient pour assurer la persistance des identités culturelles à l’époque du colonialisme.

Notes

Acknowledgments:

Any research project nearly two decades in duration owes a debt of gratitude to too many people to mention here. Nevertheless, I have received considerable moral, financial, personal, and institutional support for this work from my community partners in Niles, colleagues at Western Michigan University, and various other organizations and individuals with an interest in French colonial archaeology. Foremost among them are my longtime collaborators, José António Brandão and Terrance J. Martin. I also want to thank Mark Tveskov and an anonymous reviewer for useful comments that helped me to clarify my argument. Finally, I am grateful to Mark Tveskov and Chelsea Rose for inviting me to contribute to this special issue of the journal and their willingness to delay the publication process to ensure that Fort St. Joseph would be represented in this conversation.

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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooU.S.A.

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