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Excerpt from Lines Drawn upon the Water: First Nations and the Great Lakes Borders and Borderlands edited by Karl S. Hele

From the Introduction by Karl S. Hele

Borders are lived experiences. While non-Natives and Natives regularly cross to and from the United States and Canada for pleasure or work, real differences in culture and experience can significantly set apart the lives of people living along one side of a border from those living a mere drive across it. The simple experience of transiting the border will not be the same for all. For instance, those living in the Sault Ste. Marie or Windsor-Detroit borderlands regularly engage in what is officially deemed to be the smuggling of goods and services across the border. This is such a lived experience that from youth we are trained not to volunteer unsolicited information and to understate the reasons for a brief foray across the international line. If the border guard fails to ask about alcohol or other goods in the trunk, few are apt to declare its presence. Likewise, we learn that wearing newly acquired clothing even for a few minutes creates a fiction to relieve the burden of paying duties because the clothes are now used. Such calculations and actions, while commonplace among borderland residents, can shock and occasionally appall those who did not grow up near the border. Their experiences are far less likely to have equipped them with the repertoire of half and hidden truths that often underlie the responses of borderland residents to the routine questions of grim-faced border guards. Borders, however, are relevant far beyond the simple daily movement of goods and individuals; these demarcations—particularly those in the Great Lakes—divide families, communities, and cultures. The multiplicity of borders include not only the line separating Canada and the United States but also the lines drawn between sovereign First Nations’ territories and settler societies, as well as those frontiers that we draw between ourselves based on perceived differences.