Virtual conference to examine the impact of railways on Indigenous communities | Lifestyles
The Union Pacific Railroad Museum will host a virtual presentation of historian David Beck’s lecture, “Unfair Labour? American Indians and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair,” 6 p.m. Tuesday online.
Beck is a professor of Native American studies at the University of Montana. He is the author of several books, including “The Struggle for Self Determination: History of the Menominee Indians since 1854,” (Nebraska 2005), and co-author with Rosalyn LaPier of “City Indian: Native American Activism in Chicago, 1893- 1934”, (Nebraska 2015).
This presentation uses the 1893 World’s Fair as a lens to reveal Indigenous responses to the vast changes of the late 19th century, according to a museum press release. The impact of newly constructed railroads on Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada in the 19th century cannot be overstated. They both accelerated the demise of Indigenous economies and provided a useful tool for Indigenous people to get to places where they could make a living.
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One of those instances involved traveling to and from Chicago and the Columbia World’s Fair, the press release said. Natives from all over the world came to Chicago in 1893 to work and/or enjoy the exhibit.
However, Native Americans rarely used the railroad to secure permanent jobs in cities, Beck said.
“In the late 19th and early 20th century, very few American Indians worked in cities,” he said. “Chicago, for example, which was a hub of Native American activism, had only a few hundred American Indians among its population.
“But Indigenous people regularly used railroads for transportation,” Beck said. “Leaders from the Tribal Nations traveled to Washington, DC to meet the President by rail. Often they did this to try to ensure that the United States would honor its treaty obligations to Indigenous communities. In the 1920s, Native leaders traveled by rail to Washington to meet with lawyers and lobby Congress for permission to sue the United States for breach of its treaty and trust obligations in court. complaints.
Native Americans also used the railroads for temporary and seasonal jobs, Beck said.
“Native people who worked in Old West shows traveled across the United States by train,” he said. “And the native children, when they were taken from their homes and sent to distant residential schools, were often sent by rail.
Railroads were the vehicle of pioneers who had little regard for people who lived on the land they wanted.
“The railroads led to a rapid increase in the westward migration of immigrants and white Americans, who were enticed to settle on newly acquired native lands through widespread publicity campaigns that even spread in Europe,” Beck said. “And in the 1880s and 1890s, the United States was severing reservations with a policy that confiscated tribal lands and ceded them to individual Indigenous peoples – and sold remaining reservation lands to non-Indians.
The railroads themselves played a role in taking and using land from Native Americans, Beck said.
“Railroad officials colluded to acquire Indigenous lands, and railroads often passed through Indigenous communities with permission from Congress,” he said. “The railroads divided the hunting grounds – and, of course, the white invaders and entrepreneurs who arrived by rail and built towns along the railroads illegally took Indigenous lands and resources. And they used the railways to transport their newly acquired wealth – in ores, cattle or timber – to market. One thing the Indigenous peoples did in response was to use the railroads to travel to Washington to protest to government officials the abuses they faced in their increasingly besieged homelands.
The virtual conference is free, but registration is required at uprrmuseum.org.
The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located at 200 Pearl Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and is open Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is free, reservations are encouraged but walk-ins are welcome. Go to www.uprrmuseum.org to book your visit time.