Gendered Colonialism & the Battlegrounds of Land and Kin

Presenter: 

“'Civilizing' the Pillagers: Identity, Race, and Domesticity in Ojibwe Country, 1830-1890," Dr. Mattie Harper, University of California, Santa Cruz

Presenter2: 

"Rescuing the Future: Women and the Politics of Autonomy in a Honduran Garifuna Community," Prof. Christopher Loperena, University of San Francisco

Date: 

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Location: 

691 Barrows

Gendered Colonialism & the Battlegrounds of Land and Kin

“Civilizing" the Pillagers: Identity, Race, and Domesticity in Ojibwe Country, 1830-1890
Dr. Mattie Harper, University of California, Santa Cruz  

My talk centers on the identity of Susan Bonga, who was a member of the Pillager band of Ojibwe Indians residing in northern Minnesota and the daughter of a prominent fur trader of mixed African-Ojibwe ancestry. A moment of crisis in her life is analyzed by discussing the contexts of the federal “civilizing” program, female domesticity, and Christian missions in Ojibwe country, all of which significantly influenced notions of identity about and among Indians in the region in the 19th century. Through examining discourse surrounding Susan’s marriage engagement in 1880, I illustrate how hierarchies of “civilized” and “race” awkwardly intersected as they produced tensions in conceptions of her identity. I give particular attention to gendered aspects of colonialism in my examination of how missionaries sought to restructure Ojibwe communities by looking at the ways in which Ojibwe women both adapted and subverted forms of patriarchy, individualism, capitalism, and domesticity that were imposed in Native communities.

More specifically, my research highlights the continued dominance of cultural identity in Ojibwe communities over scientific theories of race in the late nineteenth century, among both Indians and whites. However, it also illustrates that scientific ideas about race were beginning to seep into Ojibwe communities, and pushed against already present assimilation theories. 

I also consider the meaning of Susan Bonga’s identity as a “mixed-blood” woman in a fur trade region, looking at how the distinctive “mixed–blood” identity was constructed and inhabited by women in the late nineteenth century. By using the term “mixed–blood,” rather then métis, I endeavor to interrogate its meaning within the context of the nineteenth-century Ojibwe communities in which it was employed. My work shows how a mixed–blood identity for women was based on cultural and class distinctions. Generally, the fur trade families of which Susan Bonga was a member were the ones designated mixed-bloods, but this was not a homogenous group sharing the same affinities. Alliances and economic and social statuses shifted over the years, changing the terms of inclusion and the politics of exclusion. It was these unyielding changes that gave rise to new anxieties about identity, as a political economy shifted and the Ojibwe considered new categories of identity. Some families chose to remain differentiated as mixed–blood families, and others chose to accept legal classification as Indians. 

Rescuing the Future: Women and the Politics of Autonomy in a Honduran Garifuna Community
Prof. Christopher Loperena, University of San Francisco

In this talk, I analyze the impact of land dispossession on the lives and livelihoods of Grarifuna women in Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. I demonstrate how gender becomes the vehicle for the articulation of alternative visions of the future by examining Garifuna women’s political subjectivity and their role in resisting land privatization. Violence stemming from tourist development is crucially bound up with narratives of progress, which, I argue, are deeply gendered discourses that place women on the margins of economic and political life. Women are associated with conservacionismo (conservationism) and frequently blamed for obstructing the community’s potential to become a thriving tourist destination. Women activists challenge these accusations through their leadership in the land rights movement, and in this manner they provide a vision for the development of the community that links future wellbeing to the maintenance of collective land tenure regimes in the present.