Wigwams, Rivers, and Traveling Survivors: Wabanaki Interventions in Settler Geographies of Erasure

Authors: Ashley Smith*, Hampshire College
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Social Theory, Cultural Geography
Keywords: decolonization, settler colonial studies, indigenous knowledges
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Mid-City, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1724, a militia from Massachusetts Colony brutally attacked the Wabanaki village of Nanrantsouak on the upper Kennebec River in what is now western Maine. Wabanaki narratives about the massacre at Nanrantsouak and its aftermath are in direct contradiction with mainstream settler narratives about this same event. Settler narratives draw spatial and temporal boundaries that enable the creation of indigenous “erasure narratives,” which declare the end of indigenous relationship to the Kennebec River valley in western Maine. In contrast, Wabanaki stories about the attack mobilize different understandings of space and time to mark Nanrantsouak as a symbol of Wabanaki survivance. In this paper, I consider how Indigenous erasure narratives, often referred to as the “vanishing Indian” or the “last of the –” complex (see Deloria 1998; O’Brien 2010) are made possible by particular settler colonial constructions of space and time, what I call “settler geographies of erasure.” I unpack how these geographies of erasure rely on practices of boundary-making to define and fix the contours of indigenous movement. I claim that, as spatialized frameworks, geographies of erasure rely upon the maintenance of these boundaries as what Rifkin has called “settler common sense” (2013). I argue that the spatial aspects of Wabanaki political philosophies, river kinships, and narratives of movement directly intervene in settler geographies of erasure and provide tools for decolonizing approaches to geography and history alike.

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