Episode 323 Michael Witgen, American Expansion and the Political Economy of Plunder

In the Treaty of Paris, 1783, Great Britain ceded to the United States all lands east of the Mississippi River and between the southern borders of Canada and Georgia. How would the United States take advantage of its new boundaries and incorporate these lands within its governance?

Answering this question presented a quandary for the young United States. The lands it sought to claim by right of treaty belonged to Indigenous peoples.

Michael Witgen, a Professor of History and a Professor at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University and a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, joins us to investigate the story of the Anishinaabeg and Anishinaabewaki, the homelands of the Anishinaabeg people, with details from his book, Seeing Red: Indigenous Land, American Expansion, and the Political Economy of Plunder in North America.

This episode is supported by an American Rescue Plan grant to the Omohundro Institute from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Michael Witgen, a Professor of History at Columbia University and a citizen of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, joins us to investigate the history of the Anishinaabeg people and the United States’ efforts to purchase their lands for American settlement.

Using details from his book, Seeing Red, Michael reveals details about the geography of Anishinaabewaki and its role in Anishinaabeg ways of life; Information about the economic, diplomatic, and political relationships the Anishinaabeg created with the French, English, and Americans between the mid-1600 and mid-1800s and how those relationships—or the political economy of these powers—changed over time; And, the ways in which the new United States went about organizing, regulating, and incorporating parts of Anishinaabewaki into the United States as new territories and states.

What You’ll Discover

  • Anishinaabewaki, the homeland of the Anishnaabeg peoples
  • Anishinaabeg seasonal rounds
  • Living through winter in the Great Lakes Region
  • The peoples of Anishinaabewaki
  • Dynamics of the fur trade
  • The English move into the Great Lakes Region after 1763
  • Indigenous-English diplomacy and politics
  • U.S.-Indigenous relations after the War for Independence
  • Early U.S. Indian Affairs policy
  • The acts of the Northwest Ordinance
  • Anishinaabe response to the Northwest Ordinance acts
  • Treaty of Greenville, 1795
  • The treaty-making process
  • Treaty making and ceremonies
  • Misunderstandings and side deals in land treaty negotiations
  • The transition from payment in gifts to payment in annuities
  • The political economy of plunder

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In your opinion, what might have happened if the United States had sought to negotiate with the Anishinaabe on more equal terms than it did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries? What might life in Anishinabawaki look like today?

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