Tracing the persistent myth of Native extinction

Historian and author Jean M. O’Brien (Ojibwe) has a very nice Q&A posted at the First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies blog. O’Brien, who is associate professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota, is author of Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England, which will be available next month. Her book argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. It draws on more than 600 local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island to explore how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

Says O’Brien:

History can never be truly “objective” in the sense that older historical models tried to insist. Historical questions and texts are always shaped by the intellectual and political climates of the time (among many other things), and critical thinking about historical texts is essential in coming to grips with complex colonial situations that impact Indigenous rights and recognition. Understanding the disparity in power over cultural production, including historical writing, is at the center of imaging the defense of Indigenous rights to land and recognition.

Read the Q&A in its entirety here.

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