The given land: Black Hawk's conception of place

Philosophy and Geography 4 (1):109 – 125 (2001)
Abstract
In the wake of a war against the United States and the displacement of his people from their lands at the confluence of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers, the Sauk leader, Black Hawk, prepared an autobiography published in 1833. At the center of his work was an attempt to offer his readers a strategy that would make it possible for the Sauk and other Native peoples to coexist with the Americans of European descent who had come to the Mississippi valley. The autobiography, from this perspective, represents more than another statement of a Native American ''worldview.'' Instead, it offers an assessment and a response to a crisis of survival. At issue for Black Hawk are neither property rights nor the troubles of communication between cultures, but rather ways of seeing and understanding the place that sustained the life of his people. Here, the land is not merely something valued, but rather the ground that organizes the meaning of things and events. It is the breakdown of this logic of place, both within the Native community and outside it, that precipitated the disastrous war and it is the recovery of this logic through the narrative of Black Hawk's autobiography that he raises the possibility of cultural survival. This paper reexamines Black Hawk's project and provides resources for reading it both as philosophy and as an instance of a conception of place that can contribute to ongoing efforts to promote the coexistence of cultural differences in the land of Black Hawk's people.
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