Monday, July 13, 2015

Joshua L. Reid's "The Sea Is My Country"

Born and raised in Washington State, Joshua L. Reid is an assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where he also directs the program in Native American and Indigenous Studies. He earned his B.A. from Yale University, joined Teach For America, and taught middle school for nine years. In 2009, he earned his doctorate in history, with a designated emphasis in Native American Studies, at University of California, Davis. Along with The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs, some of his work with the Makah recently appeared in two edited volumes.

Reid applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Sea Is My Country and reported the following:
Page 99 The Sea Is My Country, discusses one of the major themes in the book: ways that the Makahs—an indigenous people living around Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States—engaged the opportunities of settler-colonialism in the nineteenth-century Pacific Northwest. As I write on page 99, “The establishment of Fort Victoria and its early operations highlight the way indigenous peoples were the cornerstone of HBC [Hudson’s Bay Company] growth in the region.” Makahs and neighboring Nuu-chah-nulth communities on Vancouver Island were critical to the success of the HBC’s Columbia District during the early nineteenth century. Makahs provided foodstuffs and commodities, such as furs, whale oil, and salmon that the company shipped throughout the Pacific and to London. Knowing the important role indigenous peoples would serve in the new fort’s success, Chief Factor James Douglas located Fort Victoria at “Camosun, a sheltered harbor on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, where Indians could beach their canoes easily.” The page includes an 1854 sketch of Fort Victoria, then eleven years old, which depicts four Northwest Coast canoes (including two with sails) traveling to and from the fort.

Overall, The Sea Is My Country explores how Makahs shaped marine space in and around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, rather than terrestrial spaces, as the primary locus of their identity. Strategic exploitation of this marine borderland enabled them to participate in global networks of exchange, to resist assimilation, and to retain greater autonomy than many other land-based reservation communities. As explorers and maritime fur traders entered the eighteenth-century Pacific Northwest, they found a dynamic borderland in which Makah chiefs and other indigenous leaders exercised and contested control over customary waters and resources. During the early nineteenth century, influential Makah chiefs engaged trade and colonization efforts to maintain authority, and tribal leaders forced the United States to alter the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay to fit their maritime needs. In the later nineteenth century, Makah whalers and sealers combined customary practices and strategies with modern opportunities and technology to maintain a Makah identity and to counter environmental changes and rising settler-colonialism. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, national conservation laws and international agreements—in response to overhunted sea mammal populations—circumscribed Makah marine space and practices, cutting them out of profitable maritime industries. Once again, Makahs relied on their marine waters and a customary practice, fishing for salmon and halibut. Yet overfishing by better capitalized non-Native fishers and conservation regulations and agreements undermined Makah economic autonomy. This left the tribal nation more susceptible to the federal government’s increased assimilation efforts, then focused on controlling Native peoples. Beginning in the 1930s, Makahs fought back legally and politically. The book concludes by examining the contemporary struggle over Makah whaling rights, arguing that current efforts represent actions to regain control of marine space, to express their marine-oriented identity, and to articulate what I call a traditional future.
Learn more about The Sea Is My Country at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue