Diplomatic relationships between Indigenous sovereigns and colonial and settler governments were defined by language. In some cases, cultural divides were narrowed using common metaphors. In others, objects such as wampum belts were employed as visual records of past agreements. Speeches were carefully recorded, copied, and cited in later negotiations; treaties were ‘signed’ using symbols of name, clan or nation. The treaty texts themselves sit within a constellation of other texts; this is a large, complex and still understudied archive. In Sensitive Negotiations: Indigenous Diplomacy and British Romantic Poetry (SUNY Press, 2021), Nikki Hessell reveals the ways in which poetic texts figure in diplomacy in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book ranges across the colonial world, from the Grand River Six Nations, the Native South, to the Great Lakes ‘middle ground’. It then turns to South Africa and New Zealand. It is deeply researched and powerfully contextual. It is also reflective, challenging those of us who work on Indigenous / settler relations to position ourselves in relation to the history and texts we study.
Nikki Hessell is Associate Professor at Victoria University in Wellington New Zealand.
Charles Prior is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Hull (UK), where he co-leads the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster. His latest publication is Settlers in Indian Country (Cambridge University Press).
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