July 26th, 2005

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The first ethnic cleansing in American history

John Mack Faragher's new book A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians From Their American Homeland is definitely worth reading. I have a long review/response to it (entitled "Exile Without an End: The first ethnic cleansing in American history") due out in the next hard copy issue of Reason Magazine, but I wanted to say a few quick words here, as well.

In A Great and Noble Scheme, Faragher takes the definition of ethnic cleansing generated by the United Nations Security Council Commission of Experts in the early 1990s and applies it retroactively to American history, finding its first example in the 1755 expulsion of the French Acadians by the British government (an action that not only transferred all of the French Acadians' lands to British hands, but also managed to kill over half of the Acadians in the process). The Acadians before this point had flourished, Faragher argues, because a) they declared themselves neutral in the nationalistic struggles between France and England, and refused to fight for or against either side; 2) they traded with everyone, regardless of nationality; and c) they treated the native Míkmaq as friends and allies, intermarrying with them, adopting words from their language, and living in peaceful coexistence.

Most significantly, Faragher draws two big conclusions from his study.

1) The history of the Americas is not exceptional, at least in terms of the global pattern of ethnic cleansing; in fact, North American history includes ethnic cleansing from its earliest colonial times, and the British expulsion of the Acadians as a planned military operation anticipates later, similar actions by the U.S. government, such as the removal of Native Americans in campaigns like the Trail of Tears.

2) The Acadian experiment, which showed tremendous success for nearly 150 years before the British ended it by force, suggests that the North American story, at least, did not have to unfold as it did in conquest and killing. In the Acadians, and their friendly and prosperous relationships with the Míkmaq, other Native American nations, and other European travelers, we can see an alternative model for how peoples might have lived, loved, and traded together successfully in peaceful coexistence to everyone's advantage.

Whether or not you accept all of Faragher's arguments, this is an important text with implications that spill beyond the 18th century.

Incidentally, I should give a big thanks to Reason Magazine for supporting my work so consistently. Several of the other pieces I have written for the magazine are now in its online archive.

Two of these are also long book reviews/responses:
From May 2004, my review of The Passions of Andrew Jackson by Andrew Burstein: "Not the Same Old Hickory: The contested legacy of Andrew Jackson."

From October 2001, my review of The Wild Frontier: Atrocities During the American-Indian War From Jamestown Colony to Wounded Knee by William M. Osborn: "Brutal History: Conflict between whites and Native Americans didn't end at Wounded Knee."

Reason also published my investigative piece on the illegal Bureau of Indian Affairs occupation of the Cherokee Nation in the 1990s:
From March 1999: "Tale of Tears: When the Bureau of Indian Affairs occupied the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, it was an old story with a modern twist."

And now, an appropriate quote for the day:

“Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers—
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves…”

from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie
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