Kathleen DuVal’s TheNative Ground examines the relationships between Native AmericanIndians and Europeans in the Arkansas River Valley. By shifting our awareness from a Europeanbased view to a Native American Indians centered view, history as we know inthe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is dramatically altered.
Her work shifts geographic focus fromEuropean coastal outposts to “the heart of the continent.” The Arkansas Valley was already anestablished center of Native American Indian trade in North America. The importance of the region for its Native AmericanIndian and European visitors was the distinct opportunity for naturalprogression because of the existing diversecommunities and tribal relationships. Modern history reflects the settlement of colonial NorthAmerica from various European viewpoints.
However, she shows that the simplistic, mainstream version of Americanhistory is riddled with historical biases. Recognizing the Arkansas Valley as the centerof colonial North America is a more truthful representation of the evolvementof the nation. DuVal points out that theArkansas Valley was a place where Native American Indians and Europeans fromthe East and West met, providing a link between the two. Due to the proximity of the eastern ArkansasValley to the Mississippi River Valley, the area was a natural trade route forNative Americans Indians. By proxy, it wouldeventually be the same for Indian and European explorers, traders, and ultimately,immigrants. Not some European empire’s mission,it was, indeed, “the heart of the continent.” It’s important to understand thatwhen European scouting expeditions first came to the continent, no onerepresenting any European empires had any control over the Arkansas Valley.
Despite popular misconception, the NativeAmerican Indians in the mid-continent were not untamed, wild savages waitingfor salvation from a more sophisticated group. They had established communities with forms of government, tradeagreements in place with other communities, and advanced agricultural and huntingtechniques, unique to their groups. Becauseof their ability to adapt to the conditions of the land, the initial survivalof European explorers was contingent, largely in part, on them. The failure of sixteenth-century Spanishexplorers in the area to thrive was based largely on their unwillingness torecognize the incorporations and hierarchies of those groups. The Spanish were driven by greed, and refusedto participate in the politics of an already established political system. DuVal argues that unlike RichardWhite’s “Middle Ground,” where Native American Indians and Europeans were notcompatible, “the Arkansas Valley was home to a few large and relativelycohesive tribes from the time the French arrived through the early nineteenthcentury.
” The established Native American Indians duringthis time were able to survive because of their ability to adapt to the influxof European peoples, and because they recognized their own power. The situation in the seventeenth century wasvery different. The Quapaws, who wererecent migrants from the Ohio Valley, possibly with depleted numbers to escape theIroquois, were meeting resistance from the established populations of thearea. They realized that by forming analliance with the French that they were able to bolster their political authority,as other Native American Indian groups in the area were aligned with the Dutchand English. The relationship that the Quapawand French developed, while mutually beneficial, was still more favorable tothe Quapaw. The Quapaw still dominated almost every aspect of relationship, andwere resistant to any change that the French might offer, but the French realized their own need for local support andaccepted unification with the Quapaws.
Despitetheir modest population and their inability to dominate by force, the Quapawsused their new connection with the French to find their place in the local diplomaticsection as valued negotiators between established tribes and the early Europeansettlers.