A different kind of Indians: negotiating the meanings of "Indian" and "tribe" in the Puget Sound region, 1820s-1970s
Harmon, Alexandra, 1945-
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In order to show how formulations of Indian identity have reflected specific historical relations, this dissertation traces changing ideas about Indians in a region where Indians' relations with non-Indians have been unusually extensive and intimate--the Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound basin. Characteristics of Indians there have altered drastically since relations with Europeans began, necessitating the continual redefinition of Indianness.Recognizing that different ethnic groups depend on each other for their self-definitions, this history explains how some people came to conceive of themselves as Indians, then describes how Indians' self-conceptions evolved through give-and-take with others. The account begins in the 1820s, when Hudson's Bay Company initiated land-based trade with diverse indigenous people who lived in many autonomous but interlinked villages. It ends in the 1970s, when people organized in a score of tribes seized on a single treaty promise as the principal emblem of their shared Indian identity.Several times regional peculiarities thwarted American efforts to deal with Indians of Puget Sound strictly according to national models. Even after they achieved hegemony late in the 1800s, Americans could not define Indians unilaterally. During years when national policy favored segregating Indians by tribal groups, local aborigines' habits--their reciprocal relations with outsiders, mobility, and economic independence--had a countervailing effect. At other times, when the principal federal goal was to assimilate Indians, local Indians' contacts with non-Indians reminded people in both groups that important differences remained between them.The cultural, biological, and legal lines around Indians and tribal groups remained indistinct and contested into the twentieth century. Those people who believed they were inside the lines, growing ever more diverse, tried to give their shared classification a satisfying meaning. Using public forums such as courts, they gradually formulated a history that identified them principally as descendants of people who had established a special relationship with American leaders through treaties.
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