Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History Native American

Lines Drawn upon the Water

First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands

edited by Karl S. Hele

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2019
Native American, Treaties, Native American Studies
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2019
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2016
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2008
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


The First Nations who have lived in the Great Lakes watershed have been strongly influenced by the imposition of colonial and national boundaries there. The essays in Lines Drawn upon the Water examine the impact of the Canadian—American border on communities, with reference to national efforts to enforce the boundary and the determination of local groups to pursue their interests and define themselves. Although both governments regard the border as clearly defined, local communities continue to contest the artificial divisions imposed by the international boundary and define spatial and human relationships in the borderlands in their own terms.

The debate is often cast in terms of Canada’s failure to recognize the 1794 Jay Treaty’s confirmation of Native rights to transport goods into Canada, but ultimately the issue concerns the larger struggle of First Nations to force recognition of their people’s rights to move freely across the border in search of economic and social independence.

About the author

Karl S. Hele, a member of Garden River First Nation, teaches in and is the director of the First Nations Studies Program at the University of Western Ontario, where he is an assistant professor of First Nations Studies and Anthropology. He has presented and published several papers concerning the history of the Anishinabeg and Métis communities in the Sault Ste. Marie region and their relationship to colonialism.

Karl S. Hele's profile page

Excerpt: Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands (edited by Karl S. Hele)

Excerpt from Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands edited by Karl S. Hele

From the Introduction by Karl S. Hele

Borders are lived experiences. While non-Natives and Natives regularly cross to and from the United States and Canada for pleasure or work, real differences in culture and experience can significantly set apart the lives of people living along one side of a border from those living a mere drive across it. The simple experience of transiting the border will not be the same for all. For instance, those living in the Sault Ste. Marie or Windsor-Detroit borderlands regularly engage in what is officially deemed to be the smuggling of goods and services across the border. This is such a lived experience that from youth we are trained not to volunteer unsolicited information and to understate the reasons for a brief foray across the international line. If the border guard fails to ask about alcohol or other goods in the trunk, few are apt to declare its presence. Likewise, we learn that wearing newly acquired clothing even for a few minutes creates a fiction to relieve the burden of paying duties because the clothes are now used. Such calculations and actions, while commonplace among borderland residents, can shock and occasionally appall those who did not grow up near the border. Their experiences are far less likely to have equipped them with the repertoire of half and hidden truths that often underlie the responses of borderland residents to the routine questions of grim-faced border guards. Borders, however, are relevant far beyond the simple daily movement of goods and individuals; these demarcations--particularly those in the Great Lakes--divide families, communities, and cultures. The multiplicity of borders include not only the line separating Canada and the United States but also the lines drawn between sovereign First Nations' territories and settler societies, as well as those frontiers that we draw between ourselves based on perceived differences.

Editorial Reviews

The book is a masterful collection of articles that stretches one's concept of borders far beyond the restrictions conjured by notions of geography. Each chapter has the potential to invite further study of individual situations where the interaction of divergent cultures provides a microcosm with wide-ranging implications.

Canadian Journal of Native Studies, Vol. 29 #9 1 and 2, 2009

The essays draw upon specific academic disciplines—history, anthropology, environmental studies, and literature—that hew remarkably to the book's theme.... The thematic coherence of the volume provides an important window into the interaction of native peoples and white social and political institutions. Because of their geographic focus, ironically, they are able to demonstrate the larger lesson: that to understand the meaning of borders, one must see beyond the lines drawn upon the water.

The Historian, Volume 72, #4

Lines Drawn upon the Water is a useful read for anyone concerned with North American borderlands, issues of Native identity and sovereignty, or Great Lakes history. Although most of the material is oriented on the Upper Lakes, these essays raise issues that are not bound by this geography. As the number of young scholars included in this work proves, studies of the US-Canadian border will continue to provoke interest and attention for years to come.

Canadian Journal of History, XLIV, Autumn 2009

The essays successfully fulfill the objective set out in the introduction, which was to deconstruct the perception of the Great Lakes borderland as a clear-cut international division. Considering the collection's multidisciplinary focus, each author's historical interpretation is woven into their specialized area, effectively making for a thought-provoking read.... Not only does [the volume] serve as an excellent collection of essays concerning the borderland experiences of the First Nations people in the Great Lakes region, its collective argument sets a standard for all future native borderland studies.

H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews, January 2010

Lines Drawn upon the Water thus works to nuance understandings of Great Lakes colonial history and to problematize the boundaries between Canadian and American, settler and native, and colonizer and colonized.

Canadian Literature, 203, Winter 2009

Other titles by Karl S. Hele