Wednesday, August 21, 2013
August 21, 2013: Still Studying: Abenaki Histories
[With a new school year on the horizon, it’s important to acknowledge how much I continue to learn about America. So in this series, I’ll highlight—briefly, ‘cause I don’t know much yet!—subjects about which I’ve only recently learned. Add things you’re learning or have recently learned for a weekend post that’ll teach us all, please!]
On the many layers of history and identity within one northeastern tribe.
I dedicated significant sections of both my first and second book to Native American texts, identities, histories, and communities, and likewise include Native American authors on all my syllabi. But the truth, of course, is that “Native American” is a hugely simplified and in many ways nonsensical designation, an attempt to fold hundreds of distinct tribes and nations, and concurrently distinct languages and cultures and histories, into one overarching identity. I can’t claim to be any sort of expert on any (much less all) of those distinct communities—but I try to be specific as much as I can (talking about Laguna Pueblo rather than simply Native American identity in Silko’s Ceremony, for example), and I certainly try to keep learning about particular tribal histories and identities.
One tribe about which I have recently begun to learn, thanks in particular to my New England American Studies Association colleague Donna Moody, are the Abenaki. Donna’s brief thoughts, in the crowd-sourced post linked at her name, on the Abenaki histories that connect to both Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys and the Revolutionary War, are among the very first things I’ve learned about the tribe’s interconnections with broader American histories, and I won’t pretend that I know much more yet. But one interesting area I have begun to explore has to do with the tribe’s shifting participation in the 18th Century’s two central wars: having been forced into French Canada by Anglo settlement, the Abenaki fought alongside the French and against the American colonists in the French and Indian War; but two decades later, as Donna writes, some prominent “Abenaki warriors fought on the side of the colonists in the Revolutionary War.”
Those details only scratch the surface, of course, not only of these particular historical moments and alliances but also and more importantly of the trajectories of Abenaki histories, communities, and identities. I know that I’ll always rely on scholars such as Donna as I continue to learn about these subjects, and I welcome those conversations and connections. But as a public AmericanStudier, it’s also my job to learn as much as I can about any and all subjects, in order to pay those connections forward and continue sharing these histories and stories with audiences. Next subject I’m still studying tomorrow,
PS. So what are you still studying?