The UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded a significant grant (£931,000) to internationally-renowned researchers at the University of Hull.
‘Treatied Spaces’ is a collaborative research group led by Professor Joy Porter and Dr Charles Prior, based in the University’s Department of History. It brings together researchers, collaborators and partners from around the world including academics, Indigenous groups, museums, activists, artists, NGOs and policy-makers with the aim of making Indigenous treaties and environmental concerns central to global debates across disciplines.
The group explores the ways in which treaties concluded between Indigenous peoples and settler, colonial, and Federal governments shed light on questions of sovereignty; the possession of land; relationships to resources; the use of space and the environment; the movements of peoples and goods; and pathways of war and disease.
The aim is to deepen historical understanding of treaties as instruments of diplomacy and conquest and to present them as contested and dynamic historical documents which remain central to contemporary debates on social and environmental justice in both American and trans-national contexts.
The latest project ‘Brightening the Covenant Chain: Revealing Cultures of Diplomacy Between the Crown and the Iroquois Confederacy’, will run until September 2024 and includes investigative input from the University of Oxford, Queen's University, Canada and the University of Toronto.
The project Principal Investigator is Professor Joy Porter (History, University of Hull) and the co-investigators are Dr Charles Prior (also History, University of Hull), Professor Pekka Hämäläinen (University of Oxford), Professor Mark Walters (Queen’s University, Canada) and Professor Dale Turner (Anishinaabe, University of Toronto). Further research and artistic contributions will be provided by the renowned Anishinabekwe artist Celeste Pedri-Spade, Associate Professor and Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous Studies at Queen’s University and Haohyoh (Ken Maracle), faith keeper of the Lower Cayuga Longhouse of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The relationship between the Crown and Indigenous people has shaped North America as it is today – and it continues to be valued by the Royal family and governments worldwide because of its vital role in addressing global challenges linked to increasing awareness of the legal, environmental and territorial rights of Indigenous peoples.
Professor Porter said: “2024 marks the 260th anniversary of a pivotal juncture in the first ‘special relationship’ between America and Britain, a massive and expensive diplomatic pageant known as the Treaty of Niagara, when the Indian ‘Magna Carta’ confirmed Native rights and sovereignty over vast lands and resources. This historic perspective is essential to understanding contemporary issues related to political and environmental rights, and forms part of the Indigenous history of the British Commonwealth.
“This project, the first of its kind in terms of depth and scope, uses treaties as lenses to reveal cultures of diplomatic interaction between the Crown and Indigenous peoples that are rooted in the 17th century but of increasing global significance today.”
The project will connect, examine and interpret a series of unstudied archives and material culture held in the UK, at the Royal Archives at Windsor, the National Archives, and the British Library; in the US, at the Newberry Library (Chicago) and in 13 repositories in the Northeast; and in the Library & Archives, Canada.
As Co-Investigator Professor Dale Turner said: “The Covenant Chain has been central to the creation and evolution of Indigenous politics in Canada and the United States, but the Covenant Chain stretches far beyond North America. As an Anishinaabe scholar, it is very exciting to be part of a research community that will explore new archival sources in the UK that will bring to life the voices of my ancestors.”
Pekka Hämäläinen, Co-Investigator and Rhodes Professor of American History at the University of Oxford, said: “I am delighted to be part of the BTCC project, which has the potential to transform multiple fields. I am especially excited by the innovative digital outputs which could well change how we all understand important aspects of both the Indigenous past and present.”
Professor Pedri-Spade said: “As a collaborating visual anthropologist and Ojibwe artist, I am pleased to be part of this project. I am particularly interested in exploring the role of Indigenous visual/material culture in shaping past/present/future Crown-Indigenous relations.”
Professor Mark Walters, one of the world’s leading scholars on Aboriginal law, said: “I am delighted to be part of this exciting research project on Crown-Indigenous relations. What makes the project so exciting, I think, is that it includes researchers from different countries, cultures, and academic disciplines.
“Understanding the past of treaty relations in North America through perspectives that cut across traditional boundaries will assist my own research into the legal history of Crown-Indigenous relationships – a question that matters for the history of law but also for local Indigenous communities advancing legal and political claims today.”
The project will:
- Collaboratively produce new materials and avenues of research using a combination of academic, museum and digital platforms;
- Create new circuits of international collaboration linking academics, the public, policy-makers, Indigenous communities and cultural institutions;
- Engage diverse UK audiences in novel ways using an immersive Digital Kinetic Map and a Digital Soundscape that is at the vanguard of innovation in humanities research and museum practice;
- Promote Crown-Indigenous diplomacy as a significant intercultural asset, of unrealised value to the heritage and experience economy.
Co-Investigator Dr Charles Prior said: “To bring this past into dialogue with the present, we will co-create a variety of engaging activities and resources. These will include two ground-breaking museum exhibits with prominent Indigenous artists in residency, three interactive public workshops, a schools outreach programme and digital platforms such as an immersive digital Kinetic Map that will animate historic maps from the British Library’s collections, as well as a Digital Soundscape that will re-create diplomatic speeches in the Mohawk language.
“We will also produce published work that will illuminate Crown-Indigenous relationships and the environment, diplomatic practice, political power, continental perspectives and the historic alliance known as the ‘Covenant Chain’ that underpins Indigenous rights today.
“There will also be a suite of curated digital outputs, including a website, podcasts, schools learning resources, and a people-powered research platform that will allow the global public to be actively involved in revealing cultures of diplomacy.”
Additional project partners include the Georgian Papers Programme, the Eccles Centre for American Studies, the American Museum and Gardens (Bath), the North American Native Museum, King’s Digital Lab, Johnson Hall Historic Site (New York), and the Northeast Native Research Collaborative.
This latest high-calibre international project builds upon growing success from the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster which has secured £2.2 million in competitive research funding to support projects with a number of international collaborators. These include: a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship exploring The Forgotten Republican Roots of American Environmentalism; a British Academy Global Professorship exploring Native Ecologies: A Deep History of Climate Change; a British Academy Visiting Fellowship unearthing A Tradition of Anishinaabe Diplomacy; a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and Cambridge University Press book entitled Settlers in Indian Country; and a growing cohort of Collaborative Doctoral Training Partnerships working with the British Library, English Heritage, and Historic England.
Treatied Spaces PhD students have also recently won multiple awards including an Arts and Humanities Research Council International Fellowship Placement at the Smithsonian Museum (Washington, DC); a Cumberland Lodge Scholarship; two British Association of American Studies Postgraduate Travel Awards; and a European Association of American Studies Transatlantic Travel Grant. Treatied Spaces interns have been supported to achieve full-time employment across a spectrum of heritage and research contexts. To get involved with this and other projects, follow us on @treatiedspaces
Treatied Spaces also co-convenes the Imagining Water research strand within the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships Centre on Water Cultures. Find out more here.
‘Above are Haudenosaunee replica belts by Ken Maracle, Cayuga Nation, Deer Clan. He has created a Friendship belt specifically for the BTCC project, produced in the spirit of once again “Brightening the Covenant Chain” between the Haudenosaunee and the British Crown. Wampum belts are tools of Indigenous diplomacy, living symbols of promises made by treaty between peoples. The BTCC team is highly honoured to begin this research project with such a powerful reminder of ongoing right relationship and alliance between our respective nations.'
Photo image courtesy of Rhonda Maracle