In Native but Foreign, historian Brenden W. Rensink presents an innovative comparison of indigenous peoples who traversed North American borders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, examining Crees and Chippewas, who crossed the border from Canada into Montana, and Yaquis from Mexico who migrated into Arizona. The resulting history questions how opposing national borders affect and react differently to Native identity and offers new insights into what it has meant to be “indigenous” or an “immigrant.”
Rensink’s findings counter a prevailing theme in histories of the American West—namely, that the East was the center that dictated policy to the western periphery. On the contrary, Rensink employs experiences of the Yaquis, Crees, and Chippewas to depict Arizona and Montana as an active and mercurial blend of local political, economic, and social interests pushing back against and even reshaping broader federal policy. Rensink argues that as immediate forces in the borderlands molded the formation of federal policy, these Native groups moved from being categorized as political refugees to being cast as illegal immigrants, subject to deportation or segregation; in both cases, this legal transition was turbulent. Despite continued staunch opposition, Crees, Chippewas, and Yaquis gained legal and permanent settlements in the United States and successfully broke free of imposed transnational identities.
Brendan W. Rensink is the Assistant Director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and an Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He created and directs two ongoing public history initiatives for the Redd Center: serving as the Project Manager and General Editor of the Intermountain Histories digital history project and as the Host and Producer of the Writing Westward Podcast. His current research projects include consulting with the Native American Rights Fund, editing a collection of essays on 21st century West history, and writing a new cultural and environmental history monograph tracing experience in, perception of, and recreation in Western American wilderness landscapes.
This talk is part of the History Department’s two-year Migrations themed programming.