Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England

In this talk presented on-line by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, author Jean O’Brien narrates the argument she makes in her book, Firsting and Lasting, that local histories written in the nineteenth century became a primary means by which Euro-Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Click here for the 55-minute presentation recorded on December 25, 2023. Click here for a web page about a similar presentation in 2022.

(Above) Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Executive Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, introduced Professor O’Brien before she began to look at various Indigenous monuments in New England.

Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters about the Woodland American Indian region including but not limited to: Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit (with Lisa Blee, North Carolina, 2019); Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (Minnesota, 2010); and Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge and Nebraska, 1997 and 2003). Jean is a co-founder, co-editor, and Past President of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the association’s journal, Native American and Indigenous Studies. Jean has received numerous fellowships and awards in support of her expertise in this field.