Savage Half-Breed, French Canadian or White US Citizen? Louis Riel and US Perceptions of Nation and Civilisation

Posted in Articles, Canada, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2011-10-12 23:21Z by Steven

Savage Half-Breed, French Canadian or White US Citizen? Louis Riel and US Perceptions of Nation and Civilisation

National Identities
Volume 7, Issue 4, 2005
pages 369-388
DOI: 10.1080/14608940500334390

Lauren L. Basson, Assistant Professor of Politics and Government
Ben-Gurion University, Israel

Louis Riel was the late nineteenth-century leader of the MĂ©tis, an indigenous, North American people of mixed descent. His political protests challenged conventional notions of Canadian identity and earned him a prestigious place in Canadian national history. His challenges to US national identity, however, have been almost totally overlooked. This article examines how the responses of US press members and policy makers to Riel’s politics and racial status reflected and contributed to changing understandings of what it meant to be a member of the US nation and of civilisation more broadly. It suggests that ascriptive criteria such as race, ethnicity, religion and language were central aspects of US national identity.

Introduction

In the spring of 1885, a violent conflict erupted in Canada, garnering front-page headlines in North American newspapers for months. Louis Riel, leader of the MĂ©tis, a people of indigenous and European descent, had launched his second militant protest against the Canadian government’s violation of MĂ©tis land rights. Riel a charismatic, bi-national political activist not only redefined the Canadian political landscape; he also challenged conventional notions of what it meant to he American and a member of the civilised world. Kiel’s multiracial. MĂ©tis identity and political goals compelled US press members and policy makers to re-examine their assumptions about the meanings of US nationhood and civilisation.

In the late nineteenth century, many US journalists, politicians and other citizens expressed a world view that resembled a series of concentric circles defining the boundaries of (heir nation and civilisation. According to this worldview, the inner…

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White Enough to Be American? Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation

Posted in Books, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2009-11-17 19:45Z by Steven

White Enough to Be American? Race Mixing, Indigenous People, and the Boundaries of State and Nation

University of North Carolina Press
February 2008
256 pages
6.125 x 9.25, 7 illus., notes, bibl., index
Cloth ISBN:  978-0-8078-3143-4
Paper ISBN:  978-0-8078-5837-0

Lauren L. Basson, Assistant Professor of Politics and Government
Ben-Gurion University, Israel

Racial mixture posed a distinct threat to European American perceptions of the nation and state in the late nineteenth century, says Lauren Basson, as it exposed and disrupted the racial categories that organized political and social life in the United States. Offering a provocative conceptual approach to the study of citizenship, nationhood, and race, Basson explores how racial mixture challenged and sometimes changed the boundaries that defined what it meant to be American.

Drawing on government documents, press coverage, and firsthand accounts, Basson presents four fascinating case studies concerning indigenous people of “mixed” descent. She reveals how the ambiguous status of racially mixed people underscored the problematic nature of policies and practices based on clearly defined racial boundaries. Contributing to timely discussions about race, ethnicity, citizenship, and nationhood, Basson demonstrates how the challenges to the American political and legal systems posed by racial mixture helped lead to a new definition of what it meant to be American—one that relied on institutions of private property and white supremacy.

Read a review of the book by Daniel Lipson here.

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