In the spring of 1832, a well-respected Sauk warrior named Black Hawk led a group of Sauks, Foxes, Kickapoos, and Potawatomies across the Mississippi River, through lands formerly occupied by the Sauks. Characterized as an assault on white settlements by U.S. officials during and afterwards, the movements of Black Hawk's band were represented as a direct threat to the safety of the American public and a violation of existing treaties. In contrast, Black Hawk's Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk (1833) offers a genealogy of the conflict that contextualizes it within a decades-long struggle between the United States and the Sauks, as well as other native peoples in the western Great Lakes region, over how to conceptualize native landholding, diplomacy, and trade. The narrative explores the effects of reducing a complex regional matrix to a series of treaty-mediated relationships between individual tribes and the federal government, insisting on the existence of an alternative native-centered framework through which to understand occupancy and exchange. While it is the result of a layered composition involving transcription, translation, and editing, Black Hawk's Life functions as a self-consciously traditionalist critique of the mappings and subjectivities of U.S. Indian policy. The text uses the medium of print to provide a countervailing narrative to the texts of the treaty-system, sketching a set of regional native processes, practices, and principles which have no place either in the atomizing political geography of Indian policy or the hybridized critical imaginary of the “middle ground.”

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