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A history of alcohol as symbol and substance in Anishinabe culture, 1765-1920

Kathryn Agnes Abbott, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the history of alcohol among the Anishinaabe (also known as the Ojibway or Chippewa) people from the middle of the eighteenth century until the enactment of National Prohibition in 1920. As early as the eighteenth century, alcohol was an integral part of the gift-giving which preceded negotiations for the French--and later British and American--fur trade. Some Anishinaabe people incorporated alcohol into funerals, and there is also evidence that the Anishinaabeg had reasonable social controls around drinking into the twentieth century. Alcohol was also pivotal in shaping non-Indian stereotypes of Indian people. In the nineteenth century, the drinking habits of the Anishinaabeg were seen first as a sign of cultural weakness. The rhetoric of American missionaries emphasized that once the Anishinaabeg had accepted Christianity, they would choose to give up alcohol. However, these same missionaries also argued that in order to become Christian, the Anishinaabeg first would have to reject liquor. By the early twentieth century, the stereotype of the culturally inferior Indian combined with scientific racism to create the image of racially inferior Indians. These images served as the justification for Anishinaabeg dispossession in the early years of the twentieth century. Further, as Prohibition agitation increased in the early twentieth century, non-Indians used the Anishinaabeg in Minnesota to wage an ideological war not only about alcohol in white society but also about the extent of federal power in enforcing treaty provisions on non-Indians lands. Hence, the Anishinaabeg became the rhetorical vehicle for a complex debate which at times only marginally included them. By focusing on one Indian group at a particular point in time, this dissertation seeks to historicize one Indian group's experience with alcohol and to move away from generalizations about "Indians" and drinking. By presenting as full a picture as possible of the diversity of the Anishinaabe experience with alcohol, this dissertation hopes to emphasize both their humanity and their history.

Subject Area

American history|American studies|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Abbott, Kathryn Agnes, "A history of alcohol as symbol and substance in Anishinabe culture, 1765-1920" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9638923.