Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A New History of Adirondack Native People

rural indigenousnessMelissa Otis’s book Rural Indigenousness: A History of Iroquoian and Algonquian Peoples of the Adirondacks (Syracuse University Press, 2018) takes a look at indigenous and settler interactions in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondacks have been a homeland for Indigenous people for millennia. The presence of Native people in the region was obvious, but not well documented by Europeans who did not venture into the interior between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Otis’s Rural Indigenousness is a more comprehensive study of the relationship between Native Americans and the Adirondacks than we have seen to date. It shines a light on the rich history of Algonquian and Iroquoian people in the region and explores a variety of Native American experiences.

While Otis focuses on the nineteenth century, she extends her analysis to periods before and after this era, revealing continuity and change over time. Rural Indigenousness also places this history into the context of more familiar Adirondack themes, with ample discussion of the historiography.

Drawing upon archival research, material culture, and oral histories, Melissa Otis examines the nature of Indigenous populations living in predominantly Euroamerican Adirondack communities to identify the ways in which some maintained their distinct identity while also making selective adaptations exemplifying the concept of “survivance.”

Melissa Otis holds a PhD in history of education from the University of Toronto.

Books noticed on the Adirondack Almanack have been provided by their publishers.

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One Response

  1. James M Schaefer says:

    Have not had the chance to read Otis’ book. My interest and that of many other New York anthropologists center in the search for possible evidence of village sites that might demonstrate more than temporary Indian inhabitation. During my late father’s 70 years of searching for prehistoric traces of Native Americans (Vincent J Schaefer 1906-1993), he wrote that occasional stone implements, including an ulu, flint blades, scrapers and potsherds that have been found along lake shores, and hilltops (some escape in black fly season). His autobiographical comments (Serendipity in Science 2013:255-256) include evidence of temporary campsites (firestones) in the North Creek area. Whole pot vessels have been found in rock shelters and are preserved in the New York State Museum. Village sites do occur on the Vermont shores of Lake Champlain but so far nowhere in the main forest lands of the Adirondacks.
    It is apparent that the primary use by Native American Indians of the Adirondack wilderness was for seasonal hunting and possibly fishing with all sorts of transportation challenges likely met with canoes, pack baskets and snowshoes. Indian knowledge of Adirondack pathways was of great value to both colonists and war parties during the Revolutionary War. Surely Otis’s work would find his comments a valuable supplement to her historic research.

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