This article examines the social construction of space and identity in the Great Lakes and the western interior of North America. Through analysis of documentary evidence it contrasts the discursive practices of the French empire, which established claims of discovery and possession, with the lived experience of the French fur trade and alliance system. It suggests that the practices of empire, such as renaming people and places and then mapping the newly imagined entities both cartographically and through diplomatic protocol, represented native peoples from an exclusively imperial vantage point. This overly determined perspective obscures the extent to which native social formations in the Great Lakes and western interior operated and evolved independent of their relationships to the empires of the Atlantic world. It concludes that, from an alternative indigenous framework, European claims of discovery and possession in this region represented the rhetoric of empire rather than a genuine expansion of political sovereignty.

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