Clements Center Monthly Talks

Sami Lakomäki

Allies, Subjects, Others? Drawing and Erasing Native-State Borders in North America and Fennoscandia in the Eighteenth Century

Wednesday, October 29, 2014  |  Simmons Hall, 3101 University Boulevard   |  12:30 to 1:30 pm

In the mid-eighteenth century two new borders were drawn at the eastern and western extremes of the Atlantic World to define the relationship between Native peoples and expanding state societies. In the east, the kingdoms of Sweden and Denmark-Norway divided the Scandinavian Peninsula at the Treaty of Strömstad in 1751, forcing both to rethink where the indigenous Sámi people, inhabiting most of the country cut by the new line, fit in the new state-ordered geography. In the west, the Royal Proclamation, given by the British government in 1763, sought to end a decade of violent land disputes between Natives and colonists by dividing North America along the Appalachian Mountains into Indian country and British territory.

Modern scholarship sees the two borders in radically different ways. In North America, historians typically interpret the Royal Proclamation boundary as evidence that by the 1760s both British and Indians saw one another as racial Others, inherently so different and antagonistic that they had to be physically separated. In Fennoscandia (modern Finland, Sweden, and Norway), the Treaty of Strömstad is portrayed in almost diametrically opposite light as the “Magna Charta of the Sámis” that, even when dividing Native homelands, drew on Enlightenment principles of natural justice to guarantee Sámi territorial rights.

Both interpretations are simplistic and fall too neatly into the master narratives of the respective national historiographies that emphasize either Native-newcomer conflict (in the United States) or the peaceful integration of the Indigenous peoples into benevolent states (in Scandinavia). Situating the two borders in a broader historical and international context, Lakomäki examines them as key sites of debate in longer local and Atlantic conversations about Native-state relations and the place of Indigenous peoples in imperial spatial imaginations. In addition, he explores how Native Americans and Sámis conceptualized, adopted, and manipulated the 1751 and 1763 borders to impose their own visions of community, sovereignty, and territory on the landscape. Taking such a comparative view, Lakomäki argues, helps to throw into starker relief both broad patterns and local variations in the global history of colonialism, state-building, and Indigenous-state interaction. 

Sami Lakomäki, Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Research, is a visiting scholar at the Clements Center in the fall of 2014.  

Image: Copper etching (1767) by O.H. von Lode depicting a a Sámi shaman with his magic drum (meavrresgárri).