Brightening the Covenant Chain: Revealing Cultures of Diplomacy Between the Crown, the Iroquois and Their Neighbours

Lead Research Organisation: University of Hull
Department Name: History


To the Cree of Saskatchewan, he is 'Pisimwa Kamiwohkitahpamikohk', meaning 'The Sun looks at Him in a Good Way'. We know him as Prince Charles. To the Salish of British Columbia, she is 'Mother of all people'. We know her as the Queen. This interdisciplinary project investigates the deep but unexplored connections embodied in these names, between the British Crown and the indigenous peoples of Canada and Northeastern America - one of the oldest diplomatic relationships in the world. It shaped the North America we know today and continues to be 'brightened' and renewed by the Royal family because of its vital role in addressing global challenges linked to the legal, environmental and territorial resurgence of indigenous rights.

2024 marks the 260th anniversary of a pivotal juncture in the first 'special relationship' between America and Britain, a massive and expensive diplomatic pageant known as the Treaty of Niagara, when the Indian 'Magna Carta' confirmed Native rights and sovereignty over vast lands and resources. This project uses this and other treaties as lenses to reveal cultures of diplomatic interaction between the Crown and indigenous peoples that are rooted in the 17th century but of increasing global significance today. The project is the first of its kind to examine this globally significant diplomatic relationship in depth and scope.

An international team of specialists from Hull, Oxford, Queen's University (Canada), and including one of North America's most prominent indigenous scholars from Dartmouth College (US), in partnership with a network that includes Yale, the College of William and Mary (Virginia), King's College London and a group of museums, galleries and archives in the UK, Switzerland, Canada and the US will, over 48 months:

1.connect, examine and interpret a series of unstudied archives and material culture held in the UK, at the Royal Archives at Windsor, the National Archives, and the British Library; in the US, at the Newberry Library (Chicago) and in 13 repositories in the Northeast; and in the Library & Archives, Canada;
2. collaboratively produce new materials and avenues of research using a combination of academic, museum and digital platforms;
3. create new circuits of international collaboration linking academics, the public, policy-makers, indigenous communities and cultural institutions;
4. engage diverse UK audiences in novel ways using an immersive Digital Kinetic Map and a Digital Soundscape that is at the vanguard of innovation in humanities research and museum practice;
5. promote Crown-indigenous diplomacy as a significant intercultural asset, of unrealised value to the heritage and experience economy.

Seven interconnected workstreams undertaken by 5 core applicants and 2 PDRAs will bring texture, clarity and nuance to this under-researched topic and transform the way that we understand the history of the British Crown, its empire, and the contemporary relevance of its intercultural past. To bring this past into dialogue with the present, we will co-create:
- 6 books that illuminate Crown-indigenous relationships and the environment, diplomatic practice, political power, continental perspectives and the historic alliance known as the 'Covenant Chain' that underpins indigenous rights today.
- 2 ground-breaking museum exhibits working with prominent Native artists in residency, 3 interactive public workshops, and a schools outreach programme;
- a total of 4 international conferences and workshops that will bring together academics, policy-makers and the public
- in addition to an immersive Digital Kinetic Map that will animate historic maps from the British Library's collections, and a Digital Soundscape that will re-create diplomatic speeches in the Mohawk language, a suite of curated digital outputs including podcasts, a learning resource, website, and a people-powered research platform that will crowd-source images of objects and the stories of diplomacy.

Planned Impact

1) Tourism/Heritage: We will unlock cultural assets especially attractive to North American audiences, the largest tourist market for visits to the UK and 18% of all tourist spend. 95% of Americans seek out heritage sites linked to the Crown and 15% are from New York, the epicentre of Crown-Indian diplomacy. Our project will increase visitor numbers at mid-sized UK heritage institutions, connect the UK's wider heritage infrastructure and using digital technology, create new ways visitors experience UK heritage.
2) Museums, Galleries, & Archive Professionals: By leveraging the expertise of the project's trans-Atlantic network, we will inform policy and practice in the handling of indigenous materials for our UK museum, gallery, and archive partners, and provide a model for how the wider sector can indigenize its practice. Our research, public engagement, innovative digital outputs, and PDRA-led project on Archival Indigeneity will allow them to expand and diversify their visitor base and enhance experience by creating new ways to engage with collections.
3)The Public and Schools: The Crown and Native Americans fascinate the public. We will provide multi-faceted ways for the public to engage with our research as it develops including high-profile exhibitions, indigenous performances, public workshops, podcasts, a British Library-hosted Learning Resource, a people-powered research platform, immersive, interactive digital outputs, and social media channels. A Pen-Pal scheme linking UK and indigenous children, schools workshops led by indigenous artists and teaching materials for KS 3-5 (British History, The American West), will expand UK children's awareness of the cultural diversity of the national past.
4) Artists, Creative & Performing Arts Organisations: Two residencies by indigenous artists and accompanying podcast interviews will engage new UK and global audiences, foster artist interaction with the core research team and create opportunities for collaboration and knowledge-exchange with UK artists and art organisations. We will bring indigenous makers of traditional diplomatic material culture to the UK to participate in project events and lead workshops with schools and the public.
5) Lawyers, Governments, Policymakers: This project will directly benefit and influence how Native and non-Native policy makers, governments, courts, international organisations such as the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and philanthropic organisations such as the DiCaprio Foundation, interpret and apply historic precedents that inform contemporary rights. Our research on the historic basis of treaties will aid the development of an indigenized legal curriculum and impact how government legislation and policy are framed. We will achieve this through workshops at Queen's University that bring together the historical, legal and policy communities and draw upon the networks and expertise of CO-Is Turner (Anishinaabe) and Walters.
6) Indigenous Communities, Activists, Museums & Tribal Groups: Crown-Indigenous diplomacy is of deep legal, cultural, inter-tribal and environmental value to Native peoples seeking to promote and recover knowledge of how historic treaties worked in the past and might serve as models for intercultural relationships in the future. CO-I Turner, our indigenous artist and museum collaborators will facilitate intercultural dialogue with knowledge-keepers in order allow for meaningful Iroquois input into the research as it is designed and developed.
7) The Media: This project's research will generate significant media uptake in national and international markets facilitated by the established global media relationships of the project's investigators, partners and collaborators with PBS, which reaches 200 million, Apple News, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, and the BBC World Service. Our two major digital outputs will be eligible for a series of indigenous and other media prizes and awards.


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