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Title:Inventing "crime" in a lawless land: legal conflict, racial formation, and conquest in the North American interior
Author(s):Hughes, Michael William
Director of Research:Hoxie, Frederick
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hoxie, Frederick
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hoganson, Kristin; Asaka, Ikuko; Witgen, Michael
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):fur trade
Hudson's Bay Company
North West Company
Red River settlement
Abstract:This dissertation analyzes the changing political relationships between European agents of empire, who were usually associated in some way with the fur trade, and indigenous peoples of the continental interior north and west of Lake Superior. It examines the period between the fall of New France in 1763 and the invasion of the Canadian and American settler states in this area around 1850. It argues that British and American administrators transformed the fur trade from a system by which they managed political alliances with indigenous peoples to an instrument by which they claimed absolute territorial sovereignty over spaces delineated by international boundaries. By the 1810s, the British fur-trading companies were learning that they could no longer mobilize indigenous allies to use against their rivals, who were now British subjects. Diplomatic and political strategies deployed during the era of imperial rivalries were considered criminal and perhaps treasonous. When the Hudson’s Bay Company ascended to power in 1821, it developed a legal infrastructure that included a colonial jurisdiction, enforcement of the boundary line with the United States, and a racial hierarchy in which the "Natives" were considered dependents on the company and the Métis as "half breed" subjects who had no claim to land and independence as indigenous peoples. In this project, I examine propaganda published by fur-trading companies, records from the Hudson’s Bay Company archives, and fur-trade narrative to analyze how this transformation played out in multiple arenas. Despite the loss of their French allies, indigenous peoples insisted that the fur-trade represented a political, social, and economic institution, despite traders' new assertion that they simply owned debts against indigenous communities. In the metropolitan centers of Montreal and London, powerful British fur-trading companies attempted to legitimate their territorial claims by defining who could be defined as British subjects, "Natives," "half breeds," and Métis. The Métis continued their assertions of sovereignty throughout the nineteenth century, and in response, the HBC undermined the Métis as "half breeds" to eliminate any competing claims to land in the interior. Finally, indigenous groups living along the boundary line attempted to retain political sovereignty and autonomy despite the American and British projects of dividing their lands. Not a precursor to or a separate world outside of the developing settler states, this dissertation argues that the structure of the fur trade mirrored racial, political, and legal hierarchies developing across North America and the world.
Issue Date:2016-04-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Michael Hughes
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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