First Peoples

14. How to Enslave the Land if You Are French: A Guide for Colonists

Colonization has methods, just like the blueprints of a house. For example, if you are French and trying to colonize land in North America, you might like to stick to the methods of New France.

Encourage your men to take native women as wives, to create allegiances and their corresponding trade opportunities. There is an acceptance of Indigenous power here, as well as an attempt to profit from it. It also builds family networks, instead of networks of war. The practice began in early New France and continued through Hudson’s Bay Company times.

Dr. John McLaughlin, HBC Factor, Fort Vancouver, and his Wife Marguerite

Publicly regulate the fur trade to control Imperial relationships but privately push the boundaries of the trade into forbidden territory, using your native allegiances. This practice is well documented by Cole Harris, in his book The Reluctant Land: Society, Space and Environment in Canada before Confederation.

When the fur trade expanded deep into the West and down to the Gulf of Mexico, Christianized Iroquois from Montreal opened up the trade, usually 10 years before the French. By that time, it was a fait accompli, illegal or not.

Let your farms go to pot for a thousand miles along the St. Lawrence, because you’re continually slipping away through your woodlot to paddle off to the Pays d’en la Haut.Farms remained rudimentary in New France, because the men snuck out through the woods out back and disappeared for the whole winter. Later, they disappeared to log forests, then to build railroads and highways in Northern Ontario.

It was rather a lousy place to try farming. The King’s inability to adjust succeeded in sending French men across the continent, creating a rather imperial yet seasonal presence.

Accept indigenous slaves, given in alliance, but instead of engaging them as family to build alliances, use them as property and workers, on the model of the African slave trade in the French Caribbean. The result of this greed was that Imperial aims of expanding New France west of the Missouri were blocked. The slaves were children taken in battle by the Sioux, as far as the Shoshone country on the edge of our Basalt Sea. When they were not returned as translators and diplomats, in the Indigenous fashion, anger prevented any French expansion. In this way, the Sioux controlled access to the French and the French lost their empire.The procedure is extensively documented in Brett Rushworth’s Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous n Atlantic Slaveries in New France.

One of the most troubling details of this story is how these enslaved children, purchased for an officer’s entire year’s salary, were given no outdoor clothes, no shoes, were starved, and slept on the dirt floors of kitchens, without bedding. Despite their worth as status objects in New France, few lived to their 20th birthday.

• After the corresponding failure to expand your empire due to a lack of respect for authority and lack of acceptance of Indigenous law, you lose it to the English in an act of foolish bravado at the citadel in Quebec. The battle that lost New France did not have to be. Winter was coming. By the way, one of the British officers was George Washington. He was the owner of a large contingent of slaves.

View of the Taking of Quebec, 13 September 1759
National Army Museum

• Repeat in Oregon. In this case, the Hudson Bay Company’s resistance to settlement led to illegal settlement by the Americans, which eventually overwhelmed the French Canadians and their Indigenous wives and families. Melinda Marie Jetté tells the story well in her At the Hearth of the Crossed Races: A French-Indian Community in Nineteenth-Century Oregon, 1812-1859. For her, it is a family story.

In all these cases, Indigenous sovereignty limited French power, while its loss led to a collapse of French power as well. That is a North America not usually thrown into the light, but it is ours here in the Basalt Sea. British Columbia (The British Columbia) was set up as a reservation for both of these racialized groups, so they could practice these accommodations there. They are still ours to make. We still have this chance.


Next: The Spanish Method

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