January 19, 2018

Bradley Fellow Hard at Work

by Jill Falcon Mackin, 2017 Bradley Fellow

Jill Mackin at the
Montana Historical Society Research Center
Photo by Tom Ferris
The opportunity to spend an extended and supported time in the Montana Historical Society archives as a James H. Bradley Fellow, has built a solid foundation for my doctoral research. Under the working title, “Miinigoowiziwin (That Which is Given to US): Changing Anishinaabe Food Systems, 1780-1920,” my dissertation research focuses on the Old North Trail Corridor and human relationships to this bioregion. Given the infrequency in which native foods were discussed in historical source documents, my research in the MHS archives threw a broad net at the sources for this period including fur trade journals, military post journals, oral histories and reminiscences, newspapers, maps, and State Historic Preservation Office site reports.

Working in this diversified group of records has nuanced my understanding of how, within the context of colonization, the lifeways and foodways of my own ancestors--Ojibwe, Cree, and Métis people--changed. My overarching observation from my research at MHS is the emergence of two highly interwoven economies during this timeframe—the gift or subsistence economy and the capitalist economy. Both are concerned with resources. In Anishinaabe culture, food is not merely subsistence but gift. The pull of food resources drew native people out of the Red River to the West, while they themselves were drawn deeper into the evolving capitalist economy of the fur trade and westward nation building. The capitalist economy expands to the West in search of furs, gold, and land.

A few specific examples from the records illustrate my emerging conclusions on the interface of these two economies. The Journal of Larocque from the Assiniboine to the Yellowstone, 1805, shows the dependency the traders had on indigenous geographic knowledge, as well as how native communities functioned as weigh stations for traders where they procured food and clothing. The journals of Fort Benton, Fort Belknap, and Fort Shaw shed light on evolving trade relationships between Indians and settler colonists, in which native peoples delivered furs and robes in exchange for food. The U.S. Interior Department: Montana Superintendency of Indian Affairs Records, (1861-1871) report government initiatives to deliver food annuities and press native people into Euro-American style farming.

While, there is a clear shift in agency and dependency for both settler-colonists and native peoples, there is also a growing ambiguity in the identity of some fur traders of mixed native-Euro-American descent. These individuals are identified with native bands and living an indigenous lifestyle, but are also caught up in congealing racial boundaries. Racial identity, socio-economic roles, and settlement patterns, impacted the evolution of Anishinaabe food systems as the people moved from the Red River Valley to the Rocky Mountains. Reminiscences, such as that of Ben Kline and Eli Guardipee, and oral histories, such as those of the Métis Cultural Recovery Trust, are especially valuable for the light they shed on the persistence or “survivance” of Anishinaabe foodways into the early 20th century.

Additionally, during my research time I have gathered essential information on settlement sites of Ojibwe-Cree-Métis along the Old North Trail Corridor; significant place names longer in use; the relative abundance and scarcity of game; the influence of the Whoop-up Trail and whiskey trade on well-being and access to food; locations of bison herds and native camps throughout the Corridor; a view of the rapid rise of the cattle industry; and, the infrastructure issues involved in the delivery of food annuities to native peoples on the Missouri by steamboat.  These insights are part of the patchwork quilt of changing indigenous foodways through the 19th century and, thus lend a foundation going forth with my dissertation research. My research follows with these questions: How do these two economies affect the food systems? How do the competing food systems and economies interact in native life?

I am deeply grateful for my time spent at MHS, for the hospitality, collegiality, and resourcefulness of the staff. Thank you for this great opportunity to study history together.

If you are a graduate student, faculty, or independent scholar looking to do research in the collections of the Montana Historical, please consider applying for a James H. Bradley Fellowship.  The deadline is March 1.