Tehawennihárhos: Charter. Historical fiction.

Tehawennihárhos: Charter. Historical fiction.

Evolution and natural selection don’t “care” what specific culture clubs humans make.

Playing the matrix social game is what’s important. As long as we continue to make and remake culture clubs (in the face of changing affordances/contexts), the socialization game is working as selected. 

Affordances of the past lead us to appreciate the value of well researched historical fiction.

Feature Artist ©Stephen Gibb

INTRODUCTION to Tehawennihárhos: Charter

1845 -46

So what about Canada West in 1845? How can a writer build a fictional world based on fact?

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Homo sapiens is one race, given to prejudices and superstitions and common purposes from which sapiens makes culture clubs. Different manners distinguish culture clubs, who structures are essentially the same.

Of course the historical writer of fiction turns to relics to build a world.

In 1845 what do people eat? Who goes hungry? What do people wear? What do people read, write, ride and hope for? Whom do they hate? Whom do they love? Whom do they marry? How are they governed? How are they policed? Who plays by the rules? Who takes advantage? Who is rich? Who is poor? Who faces injustice? Who perverts the laws?

Answers to simple and straightforward questions are construction materials.

What juicy materials does period research turn up regarding affordances of the Mohawk trilogy?

a) F. Douglas Reville tells his readers that white men in the village of Brantford petition for (and gain) a clearance of coloureds.

b) Heather Ibbotson unearths a revealing murder trial involving William John, a descendant of two great Mohawk chiefs, Joseph Thayendanegea Brant and John Deserontyon. Vinegar Hill, a notorious place frequented by the young and the daring— such as Doctor Digby’s sons – lies between Clarence and Market Streets. Darius Davis, Squire Davis’ brother, operates a brothel on Vinegar Hill in 1863. We know this because William John goes on trial and is convicted for the murder of Lizzie Bosson. Darius Davis and Ann Bergin are called as witnesses.

c) After extensive digging, Bruce E. Hill concludes the British and colonial governments unlawfully impoverish the Haudenosaunee in the great Grand River Navigation Company swindle.

d) Public documents and newspapers describe the goings on in early 19th-century Ancaster and Burlington Heights – the sites of the Bloody Assize trials and hangings in 1814. Census records show 80% of “British subjects” living in Upper and Lower Canada during the War of 1812 are American-born.

Using the trials, the British military and the hyper-loyalist United Empire Loyalists teach American-born late-loyalist-Canadians a harsh lesson about allegiance to the Crown. Traitors (most are farmers) have their heads are chopped off and put on pikes.

e) Various sources indicate David Thompson 1 is a shady megalomaniac suffering from poor health during the construction of Ruthven Hall, which is in the Navigation’s canal village of Indiana on the Grand River. And so on, and so forth. If one can find answers to probing questions then one can build an alien and fictional era with confidence in its overall verisimilitude.

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Map of First Nations

Newitz believes authentic science fiction and historical fiction can animate the alien cultures of their alternate worlds.

In 1845 mechanisms for transferring energy through electricity are in their infancy. No wall plugs? What could be more alien? For heat energy, humans are mostly fire-dependent. The modern kerosene lamp is invented in 1853 but eight years earlier people use a mixture of camphene oil and alcohol for lamp fuel—often with explosive results. The village of Brantford does run a rudimentary fire engine because fire remains not only the family’s best friend but also the worst enemy. Brantford citizens call firefighters the Goose-neck Company because of the shape of their fire-fighting machine’s water ejector.

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Old goose-neck fire fighting machine

When one lives on the backside of an empire, as Lieutenant Needles calls Canada West, one knows communication provides challenges. It’s always a slow news day.

Morse code and the telegraph are fresh on the scene but there are no party lines. Brantford’s famous (part-time) son, Alexander Graham Bell, takes out his phone patent much later, in 1876.

In 1845 the postal service is alarmingly fly-by-night. Post office officials might hand off letters to any passing stranger headed in the right direction.

Of course Canada West wants energy-savers—typewriters and sewing machines and steam tractors. Though conceived of, such machines are not yet commonplace.

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First sewing machine

The United Province of Canada is conservative-minded and rural and impecunious but give it time. Dealing with problems in trade and communication, the new British colony flips to a forward face. The government builds several canal systems and heralds the arrival of the railroads.

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Welland Canal, early days. Grand River Navigation canal at David Thompson’s Indiana

Whether the 19th-century Christian hegemony holds a woman as someone beneath notice (Melville, Moby Dick 1851), or an adulteress (Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter 1851), or an earth-angel (Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop 1841), a settler woman is a commodity. A male owns her. Like cows and other chattel, domesticated women endure hard physical labour. They participate in the work and receive none of the credit (Bell, Hints to Immigrants: In a Series of Letters from Upper Canada 1824) because, apparently, women are not meant for anything other than the farm or the household—not for the rough and tumble and competitive spheres of stressful situations in politics or education or wealth or business management or real estate or medicine (Backhouse, Petticoats and Prejudice: women and law in nineteenth-century Canada 1991).

Unless there is public outrage over acts too heinous to be humanly ignored, men hold tight to the whip (Haliburton, The Clockmaker 1836/1838), and with social approval men who prey on women are free to go about their business.

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Constance Backhouse, Petticoats and Prejudice; Thomas Chandler Haliburton, The Clockmaker

Some English and American women claim theirs is the superior gender but for what purpose?

A woman’s archetype may sink to the sewer where women are morally and biologically inferior to men or she may sail into the ether, to a place where women are angelically superior to men, but women are not functioning adults. Wherever she flies, a woman is trapped not only by the common law but also her womanly virtues.

Nation-state religious propagandists relentlessly shout: Self-sacrifice. Diligence. Obedience. Martyrdom (S. F. Wise, eds., A. B. McKillop and Paul Romney, God’s Peculiar Peoples: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century Canada 1993). From the pulpit colonial church ministers extol womanly virtues. Rural Canada needs farm workers. Period. Soaking up the propaganda about womanly virtues, virtuous female farmers may not believe they need a science education to polish up their critical skills. But they do.

Because technologies and experiments can go awry when you do not have the information you need, science fiction and historical fiction inform us about the importance of universal education, and the public education of women is crucial for a culture’s scientific catch-up. Strange to say education’s sweetest urban marker is female fashion: our changing sense of fashion/propriety is education’s malleable and political child. As the mid-19th-century world turns many urbane women in Canada West warm to the idea of their moral superiority over Indigenous women (Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush 1852). Add this to the Presbyterian belief in the Elect and you come across a series of intolerable ladies in “polite” colonial society (Duncan, The Imperialist 1904). Female moral superiority in gracious, mid-19th-century society arrives on the scene dressed in oversized, hard-to-manage crinolines and skirts.

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Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush; Sara Jeannette Duncan, The Imperialist

Mercifully, challenges to hooped skirts and moral superiority lie within the historical Scottish commitment to universal education. In the United Province of Canada, Egerton Ryerson submits his first report on reforming education in 1846. Charles Darwin’s Beagle has already sailed to and from the Galapagos. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) looms over the mid-century horizon. Yes, Canadian universities are far too slow to get on board with the theory of evolution but science wins. Resistance crumbles. In the end science triumphs and women go to school. Set loose, both the modern educational curricula and the women who study, run the gamut of scientific learning – from following the footprints of natural selection, to genetics, to decoding the genome – and the entire community benefits. Cultural definitions of race and racial superiority and sexual superiority are false scientific categories, which are meant to bolster power clubs. Each of us is “fit” in an evolutionary sense or, in truth, we would not be here. Ryerson’s dedication to universal schooling and the Scottish thirst for learning (McKillop, A Disciplined Intelligence 1979) shape the future of the Canadian nation.

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Egerton Ryerson

By the end of the 19th century, courtesy of the growing desire for learning, Canadian women see changes in fashion. Clothes for middle-class women show less intense creativity but allow for more physical freedom. In the 20th century, middle-class women express freer public thought than their 19th-century counterparts; they find freer gainful employment; they accept freely-given public accolades. Women dress for their public roles and fashion speaks volumes about a community’s political style and manners. Public education plays a crucial role in our enlightenment.

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The 19th-century lace-up corset squeezed women into hourglasses. 1845

Believers in a national education standard for science decry so-called cultural charter schools, which do not follow a common public-school science curriculum, because they know of science fiction’s possible dystopian consequences – as they are eerily described in Margaret Atwood’s parable about a future theocracy gone mad. Wherever you live and whoever you are, you should not find your culture or religion acts as a barrier to your scientific education. In Atwood’s alien world roles for public women are non-existent. Uniformity of the female costume makes a political statement about women’s loss of public life. Historical fiction (Miller, The Crucible 1953) and science fiction (Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale 1985) illustrate how humans tend to travel the tyrannical road to try to ensure a culture club’s survival—wherein the harshest discipline is preferable to democratic chaos. Without throwing shade on the diversity of recent immigrant parents and desperate refugees, who may follow Islamic or Christian fundamental cultures and religions, Canadian students and Canadian educators may discover that writers of both science fiction and historical fiction can help their citizens side step, or at least come to understand, the bleakest of human evolutionary traits: the hard-wired urge to destroy the competition.

Although scientifically wrong-headed, the competitive drama of racial and cultural bigotry has long played on the social stage. Religions continue to facilitate an excuse for enmity. In 19th-century Canada West the Presbyterian Elect and white privilege alarm non-European women.

In fact Indigenous women are plain furious.

Actor and short-story writer Pauline Tekahionwake Johnson is the granddaughter of John Smoke Shakoyen·kwaráhton Johnson and Helen Martin Johnson; and she is the daughter of Mohawk Chief George Henry Martin Onwanonsyshon Johnson and Emily Howells Johnson. Pauline Johnson is furious. Her perspective has a modern ring.

In Johnson’s short story “As it was in the beginning” the Métis child, Esther, converts to Anglicanism. Esther’s priest betrays her faith and Esther realizes that for the priest superiority rests with skin colour (see the 1901 colour-coded Canadian census), and not with religion. “I listened, sitting like one frozen. . . . I hated that old mission priest as I hated his white man’s hell. I hated his long, white hair; I hated his thin, white hands; I hated his body, his soul, his voice, his black book—oh, how I hated the very atmosphere of him.” The idée fixe in The Moccasin Maker (1913) is backlash hatred and one recalls that in 1853 the Anglican Reverend Adam Elliot(t) refuses to marry Johnson’s two-coloured parents, making Barriefield and not Ohsweken the site of the Howells-Johnson marriage.

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Renowned Mohawk actor Emily Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake

Like Adam Elliot(t), the 19th-century Rotinonhsyonni/Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Confederacy) are not that pleased with so-called interracial marriages but they frown categorically on marriage between clan members (matrilineal-related first-cousins). Barbaric Europeans are not so fussy. Mostly repellent to us in the 21st century, first-cousin to first-cousin marriage is not offensive to Canadian settlers in 1846. The Farrs provide an excellent example of close relatives and their nuptials. And after all Charles Darwin married his first cousin, Miss Emma Wedgwood. Nonetheless the Six Nations’ not wishing to sanction the marriage of clan relatives is prescient genetics.

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George Johnson and Emily Howells, parents of Pauline Johnson

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JOHNSON, JOHN (Sakayengwaraton, Shakoyen·kwaráhton, usually known as Smoke Johnson), Pine Tree Chief of the Mohawks. Avowed enemy of Squire Davis. Grandfather of Pauline Johnson

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Stone at Onondaga marking the lives of Squire Davis Tehawennihárhos (1825 – 1886) and Janet (Jennet) Ferguson (1825 -1905)

With colonial pressure on the matrilineal custom the people do adopt a patriarchal identity, as we see in the Mohawk Davises’ and Johnsons’ choice of surname. Hereditary tracks get muddled. Food and language(s) and labels quickly change.

Mohawk Brian Maracle (Back on the Rez) writes about the effective confusion of naming: “Five hundred years ago, when Columbus thought he had found India, he called us Indians. (And, as the old joke goes, we Indians thank the Creator every day he wasn’t looking for Turkey.) Forty years after Columbus, when the first French explorers came calling, they met the Algonquin, who said that their enemies to the south, the people of the Five Nations, were ‘Irinakhoiw’—‘real snakes.’ They also said that the enemies who lived closest to them, a people who practiced ritual cannibalism, were ‘Mohawik’—‘cannibals.’ [W]e would have told [the French] that our name for the people of the ‘Five’ Nations is not Iroquois, it’s Rotinonhsyonni—the people of the longhouse” (p234). The ‘Six’ Nations Confederacy [add the Tuscarora, 1722] watches its territories and governance and customs collapse under the weight of French and English colonization.” Europe’s “discoveries” in the “new” world bring endless grief to all the First Nations but as a descendent of this nation I focus on the Haudenosaunee.

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19th-century Haudenosaunee citizens reel in pain remembering how the English/British Crown betrays Joseph Brant and their confederacy after the American Revolution. The Crown also betrays Tecumseh’s confederacy after the War of 1812. The first betrayal is in the Treaty of Versailles (1783). The next, in the Treaty of Ghent (1814).

Drawing up the peace treaties, the Crown will not argue for First Nations’ sovereignty in British North America—the way it promised – nor will it press the United States to cease sending settlers into Indian Territory—the way it promised.

Were Indigenous prophets privy to futurist writing, would England have enticed its famous Indigenous allies, Brant and Tecumseh, to join in its wars? In truth, there is not much choice. In their time, Mohawk Joseph Thayendanegea Brant (1776) and Mohawk John Teyoninhokovrawen Norton and Shawnee Tecumseh (1812) must choose between two invaders and then assist one. England is a poor choice. But! America is a poorer one. The conclusion is predictable. Whenever the issue is about Indian Territory, England breaks its promises to its Indigenous allies and leaves them at the mercy of the land-hungry, white-supremacist settlers in the United States and Canada. North of stateside, prejudice culminates in the astonishing and frightening Canadian Indian Act (1876).

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Alan Taylor details two civil wars, 1776 and 1812. The United States and Britain are guilty of unforgivable betrayal of their allies.

For an all-out assault on Indigenous finances and territory, the Grand River Navigation Company, chartered in 1832, takes the cake. The Navigation digests enough money from the Haudenosaunee to build a canal system (Hill, The Grand River Navigation Company 1994) and in gratitude for the Confederacy’s help the company pushes the Confederacy into bankruptcy. Despite the British and colonial governments’ promises and the canal promoters’ high hopes, the canal waterway is a bitter disaster. The company’s bankruptcy leaves in tatters the wealth of a proud and sturdy people. The Grand River Navigation Company does not get much (any) air in Canadian history books, making the canal scandal—to modern multicultural Canadians at least—part of an alien world.

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The Grand River Navigation Company, Bruce E Hill

“Building a world” and then “presenting the alien” run direct into Newitz’s third point, which is emphasis on “scientific discovery.” Science fiction guesses how far we might go with inventions and technology and economies. Historical fiction describes whence we have come.

The cotton gin and rotary printing press and baseball and external combustion steam engines and expanding railroads dominate the pre-Confederation conversation, which is all about the benefit of progress. The student of today wanting Canada to adopt more solar and wind power energy may marvel at the irony of the 19th_century turnaround wherein the commodity to rule the world in 1845, King Cotton, will make way for another king. Technical progress produces the internal combustion engine and predicts the rise of cars and King Oil. But until the closing years of the 19th century, Kings Cotton (and Sugar) give the push to lucrative plantation agricultures, which, though partially mechanized, remain labour intensive.

Like nowhere else except perhaps in Brazil, slavery catches fire in the West Indies and Dixie.

During the last thirty years of the 17th century, England is the world’s biggest slaver. For a nascent Upper Canada in 1793 British Governor John Graves Simcoe outlaws any new slavery where slavery is not yet much of an issue. In Lower Canada, which does allow slaves, the days of human bondage are not over until 1833. That is the year England itself abolishes slavery.

Thirty years later there is a civil war in the United States over states’ rights to have legal access to chattel slaves. Before the outbreak of the American Civil War runaway slaves follow the drinking gourd north to British North America. A growing coterie of American abolitionists works at awakening a nation’s conscience (Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 1845; Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly 1852; Northup, Twelve Years a Slave 1855; Ward, Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro–his anti-slavery labours in the United States & Canada & England 1855; Kemble, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 1863).

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“Frances Anne ‘Fanny’ Kemble was a British actress from a theatre family in the early and mid-19th century. She was a well-known and popular writer and abolitionist, whose published works included plays, poetry, eleven volumes of memoirs, travel writing and works about the theatre.”

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Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave 1845

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Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly 1852

But hard-hearted Dixie stands like a rock. Owners demand the return of human property. Slave-snatchers aided by slave-brokers give chase to runaways—all the way into Upper Canada, later Canada West. The Grand River settlement is near Buffalo and not far from Detroit. Genealogist Angela Files says the Six Nations of the Grand River accept America’s fugitives. You will find African Peter and Sarah Johnson living there but an African’s living well in Canada, 1845, is not a social reality.

Unidentified Québec woman. Sophia Pooley? Nellah Golden inspiration

In reality “living well” is a forever issue.

And modern medicine holds one key. Science and fiction are natural allies—a way for the sophisticated mind (Thompson, Fictional Matter 2016) to examine how and when knowledge is gained.

Fiction documents our strides in medicine and reports whether strides bring/or do not bring healing (Munro, “The Bear came over the Mountain” 2013). In a hundred and seventy years, amazing advances in science occur within western medicine but back then (1845), Indigenous or colonial, you might seek out an Indigenous healer. You would want an Indigenous midwife.

Back then Western medicine is dirty and dangerous and often a death sentence for mother and child. Cholera and typhoid epidemics kill thousands. One may wish to see us return to former power sources in our collective future but in the mid-19th century no pregnant woman and/or no one suffering from a recurrence of malaria or a bout of cholera anticipates a visit from Doctor Rush. 21st-century medicine is the 19th-century’s science fiction brought to life.

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False teeth mid 19th century

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Dr Benjamin Rush. He became a professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania in 1791, though the quality of his medicine was quite primitive even for the time: he advocated bloodletting for almost any illness, long after its practice had declined. 

Scientific discoveries notwithstanding we have science fiction’s most alien world sitting right on our own doorsteps. Looking back four hundred years from the 19th-century we arrive at the quintessence of alien. America (sic), pre 1492.

The 15th-century’s European and African and North American colossal post-Columbian exchange (Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 1972; Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus 2006) brings to America many horrible diseases, like smallpox and yellow fever and measles. And cholera and malaria and typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

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Charles C Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus

But the Columbian exchange also brings to America European honeybees and earthworms and horses and, “lately,” millions of Europeans, who endure the Great Famine, which begins in 1844-45.

An algae-like fungus causes the Irish Famine. Sourced in Mexico Phytophthora infestans carries the distinct dishonour of being America’s cataclysmic disease-payback to Europe. The blight preys on the nightshade family.

Affected potatoes, potatoes being the main food for nearly half of Ireland, north England and Scotland, dissolve into a stinky inedible mush. Catholic Irish and Protestant Anglo-Irish (and Scots and Yorkies) do their best to escape the widespread calamity. Catholic Irish come on coffin ships to seek new life in Canada, only to get malaria in Canada’s mosquito-infested swamps while they dig a nation’s quarries or dig a nation’s 19th-century canals. In the 100 000-plus years of homo sapiens on this planet, the four hundred years after the Columbian exchange are but a few ticks on the anthropological clock. An alternate alien world of the pre-contact era is not the focus of historical fiction set as late as 1845; all the same, the concept of an alternate,  pre-Columbian world lies near and dear the soul of any mid 19th-century Indigenous culture.

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Phytophthora infestans caused the Great Irish famine 1845 – 1851; thousands from Ireland, Yorkshire and Scotland come aboard coffin ships to North America. Bones found on Canadian beach are likely from The Carricks – a coffin ship that sank four miles off Cape des Rosiers.

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Phytophthora infestans

Sans Columbus what traditions would First Nations have protected, upon which to build new traditions? What Indigenous nation(s) would dominate North America? What Indigenous language(s) would dominate? How would these languages change?—as languages always do!

What crops would sustain the people? Would the Haudenosaunee international Great Law of Peace provide a model of governance for other First Nations just as the league’s federalism, say some, influences framers of the American Constitution?

For a futile but pleasurable pastime, Indigenous people dream about an alternate, alien world without either European or African lineages.

Multicultural Canadians tell First Nations to “get over it.” Even as First Nations (and Inuit and Métis) adjust to modern affordances, Indigenous peoples will not forget their stories to “get over it.”

Sovereignty—a nation state’s laws and policies controlling its territory and the people who reside within its borders—is always at issue. For instance “The Mohawks of Kahnawà:ke are nationals of pre-contact Indigenous polity that simply refuse to stop being themselves. . . who belong to a nation other than the United States or Canada” (Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus 2014).

The fly in the ointment is as old as the hills. Example after example shows us civil unrest tends to dog the nation-seekers of an exclusive sovereignty, a state that favours a particular lineage. Indigenous territories are not exempt from this civil unrest. For First Nations are there other models?

One historian describes Joseph Thayendanegea Brant as a “Canajoharie” Mohawk (Paxton, Joseph Brant and His World: 18th Century Mohawk Warrior and Statesman 2008).

Brant’s idea of sovereignty is post-modern. And fearfully unpopular—then and now.

From all directions Thayendanegea comes under attack. The Canajoharie Mohawk’s proposal of various and integrated lineages living together under Indigenous authority is as anxiety making in 1784 as it is today—for different reasons.

Brant, the visionary, foresees the problem of land tenure. He learns about fee simple and land tenure from his experience in the Mohawk Valley and his encounters with a vicious and greedy fur trader named George Klock. Pre-revolution, every time an Indian sells a piece of land to a white man, the Crown scoops authority over the erstwhile Indian Territory. Thereby the Crown broadens its colonial presence. In 1791 in Upper Canada Brant argues an Indian can buy and sell his land within the sovereign Indian Territory to whomsoever he pleases, but the land stays put under Indian control. Brant believes Indian land exists under an Indian umbrella and the First Nations Councils should monitor land sales and collect transfer fees and taxes.

At the end of the 18th century, Brant’s vision of a multi-cultural sovereignty was a no-go. There would be no Haudenosaunee dominion over a multi-ethnic citizenry. Nowadays for many First Nations provable lineage (status) makes economic sense. Governments believe(d) it. For Indigenous (and the royalist English), and for those who are believers in a birthright-hierarchy, the individual’s official status matters. But as far back as two centuries, Thayendanegea argued for a multicultural, sovereign and progressive aboriginal state. The colonial government refused to consider Brant’s concept of sovereignty and an Indigenous dystopian future arrived on the 20th-century’s doorstep.

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James Paxton, Joseph Brant and His World

Historian Barbara Graymont (“Joseph Brant,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography) posits England promises but never intends to allow two sovereignties within its “claim” to the upper country.

The backlash starts. And so does civil unrest without and within Indigenous communities. Science fiction may envision the 21st-century destiny of First Nations’ sovereignties based solely on lineage but, in the 19th century, the Haudenosaunee’s internal wrangling about lineage and status versus non-status preys on everyone’s mind: who’s in? and who’s out? and who decides? (Noon, Law and Government of the Grand River Iroquois 1949).

Powerful new cliques form to determine who shall be elite within the Indigenous community. As Squire and Jennet Davis discover.

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Historical fiction and science fiction writers “build alien worlds.”

They write comparatively with the present about “scientific advancement.”

They trace the role of women in a culture.

They imagine the norms of a culture carried to extremes.

Certainly both genres plant the old-fashioned, universal touchstones into the core. Love. Hate. Jealousy. Sex. The enemy. The crooked. The noble. The brave. The economy.

A plus for historical fiction! Hi-fi has access to “real” characters. Aristocrats of wealth like Brantford’s James Wilkes (Harring, White Man’s Law 1998); highway robbers like Robert Burr and the Markham Gang (Arculus, Mayhem to Murder 2003); high-level fraudsters like John Henry Dunn and Lieutenant-Colonel David Thompson (Hill, The Grand River Navigation Company 1994); and conceited, misogynist thugs like John Smoke Johnson (see Margaret Davis’ deposition in the Canadian archives) and predator Captain Barton Farr (significant data found in vital statistics)—all are historical fiction’s concept of “real.”

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David Thompson 1builder of Ruthven Hall (Ruthven Park) at Indiana and dedicated manipulator of the Navigation

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Vital statistics. Sexual predator Bart Far is Addie Farr’s great-grandfather and her father.

All persons participating in this action-filled drama have their psychological counterparts in our present-day cultures and the futurist cultures of science fiction. Alien creations come peopled with familiar archetypes and pathologies, or why would one bother to read about them?

To build an alternate world you have to know the territory and you have to know the era. The location is Canada West (Ontario) and the time is 24 June 1845 to 14 April 1846 and the players are not kings and queens but historical fiction and science fiction’s courageous if damaged explorers. They are what 21st-century readers might call outliers. The author of historical fiction, as much as the author of futurist fiction, is a storyteller who wants you to care about these outliers and to care what happens to them. She wants you to imagine the struggles of the central actors as they try to survive in their world, which is alien to them, and to us.

*American creative non-fiction/fiction writer Annalee Newitz is the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

 

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