“Mother of All the Living”: Motherhood, Religion, and Political Culture at the Ojibwe Village of Fond du Lac, 1835–1839

Lecture Description

Motherhood and spiritual practice deeply intersected with the politics of U.S. imperialism at Waaswaagoning (in what is currently Minnesota) between 1835 and 1839. These dates reflect the years in which Catharine Ely, wife of missionary Edmund Ely, kept a diary, providing a rare glimpse into a female missionary’s perspective on the American colonial venture in the Upper Midwest. It is in the details of Catharine’s motherhood that we find evidence of her adherence to evangelical Protestant perspectives on child rearing – perspectives that placed Catharine and Edmund in direct opposition to the ways in which Ojibwe children were raised. While the birth of Catharine’s children represented the Christianizing of the region in action – the missionaries’ greatest hope made manifest – the Ojibwe women bearing children were ensuring the physical and cultural continuance of their communities, refuting the popular U.S. narrative of a disappearing Native people, and in the raising of their children in accordance with their own cultural-spiritual beliefs, offering de facto resistance to white America’s plans for Ojibwe bodies and lands. Ultimately, the clash of spiritual expectations between the Elys and their Ojibwe neighbors undermined the Ely’s attempts to convert the Ojibwe to their spiritual and cultural point of view. To the Ojibwe, the Elys practiced nothing less than child abuse in the name of God.


Religion Women

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