St. Lawrence County prior to 1600s?
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 - 3:34 pm

To the Editor:

I would like to make a comment about the “Comprehensive guide to the greater Potsdam-Canton area” that North Country This Week publishes annually.

I find this guide very useful in most aspects, but was rather puzzled about the presentation of St. Lawrence County’s history. It starts like this: “St. Lawrence County’s history dates back to the earliest explorers from the early 1600s, even though the region didn’t experience significant development until just before 1800.“

So – “history” starts with explorers. Did they meet anybody when they explored the region? We do learn something about that, too: Before (French, later British) settlers set foot on the region, it was debatable ground between the Iroquois confederacy and the Huron-Algonquin nations of Canada, but mostly as hunting and fishing grounds, and the region was never “continuously occupied” by Native Americans.

After this interlude, we hear about the “real” history of St. Lawrence County. It starts in the late 1780s when the state legislature of New York encouraged land sale and created ten towns, among them Canton and Potsdam, that were subsequently populated by white settlers.

I am aware that North Country This Week is not a history book and that it cannot cover the entire historical record of the region we inhabit. However: whose history is this, and to whom is it told?

In those few lines, we are confronted with history as the presence of settlers of European descent, continuous settlement, individual property ownership, and leadership of wealthy white families (like the Clarkson family). What about the ways of those Native Americans who, from their point of view, had always lived in this region (if maybe not in the exact borders of what is today St. Lawrence County)?

The spotlight on the “real”, “white” history of settlement and land cultivation makes Native American presence disappear from the imaginary map of importance. But what is this parallel history? It is here, today, even if still excluded from the official history of the country. Native American traditions, beliefs, and contemporary ways of life up here are alive if anybody is interested in seeing them.

Take for example the Akwesasne international Pow Wow on Cornwall Island (takes place every year the weekend after Labor Day weekend and is just a breathtaking event). These are things that North Country This Week could easily include in their representation of the area.

Susanne Zwingel, Potsdam