Constructing and Enforcing the "Medicine Line": A Comparative Analysis of Indian Policy on the North American Frontier

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American Review of Canadian Studies (Vol.46, Iss.3)


American Politics | International Relations


The national self-images of the United States and Canada have been shaped, in part, by their contrasting histories and mythologies of westward expansion and nation-building. Those narratives are most distinct with regard to government policies toward aboriginal peoples on either side of the 49th parallel, what Indians called the medicine line. The purpose of this article is two fold: (1) to specify and develop a three-part conceptual framework (consisting of the Turnerian discourse, the Lipset Thesis, and Borderlands Studies) for examining the history of the North American frontier and (2) utilizing a wide range of scholarly literature, to apply that framework in a comparative analysis of national policies toward Indians and First Nations in the post-Civil War/post-Confederation period on the Great Plains and Prairies. Several explanatory factors for cross-national difference will be identified and examined, including variance in geography and geology; demography, demographic trends, and political pressures in each country; the types of national political institutions and their impact on policymaking; and the types of forces deployed in the West (the Mounties and the US Army).