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 Writing Indians Out of Existence

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Historian Jean O'Brien and Indian People in New England

Jean M. O'Brien
One outright lie is that Indians “vanished” from New England centuries ago, and/or that the Native people who live here today are somehow “assimilated” or “not really very Indian.” These ideas are ridiculous, but they unfortunately carry great weight in New England—in local monuments to chiefs who plunged to their deaths from mountaintops, in mainstream press coverage of casinos, and in local lore... O’Brien is a first-rate historian, and... has found “a New England thickly populated by ‘last’ Indians throughout the nineteenth century, and occasionally into the twentieth.” — Siobhan Senier, associate professor of English, University of New Hampshire.

Author and historian Jean M. O'Brien will present the lecture "Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England" on Mon., Nov. 28 at 5 pm in the UMD Library Rotunda. A reception will follow.

O'Brien's presentation will address the prevalent pattern she has observed in which histories, public monuments, and commemorations created during the nineteenth century deny the presence of Indian peoples in New England and memorialize their alleged disappearance. These efforts, O’Brien suggests, were deployed as rhetorical strategies for refuting Indian claims to lands and rights, yet in many cases now sheds ironic light on the enduring presence of Native peoples across and beyond New England.

Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is professor of history at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is the author of Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (University of Minnesota Press, 2010), and numerous other articles. O’Brien is co-founder and immediate past president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. She also served on the Advisory Board and provided on-camera appearances for We Shall Remain, PBS "American Experience" series on American Indians.

This event is sponsored by the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, the American Indian Learning Resource Center, the American Indian Student Organization, the Commission on Women, the Department of History, and the Department of American Indian Studies.

For info or accommodations for disability: or call 218-726-8771.

November 2011.

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