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Michael Borsk

The Jean-Marie Fecteau Prize


Michael Borsk, “Conveyance to Kin: Property, Preemption, and Indigenous Nations in North American, 1763-1822” William and Mary Quarterly 80, no. 1 (January 2023): 87-124.

In a masterfully contextualized legal history, Michael Borsk presents a puzzle about the making of property rights after the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation supposedly enshrined the right of preemption as the crown’s sole right to make Indigenous land into marketable property. But colonial officials worked within the reality that Indigenous laws also made property. Unlike earlier dismissive discussions of “Indian deed games,” Borsk takes seriously that land conveyances were drawn up by Indigenous people, using settlers’ legal tools, to confer specific Indigenous property rights on settler men, their Indigenous wives, and their children. In this subtle, expert, and impressively researched account, Borsk reaches across colonial boundaries with care to reveal how differences in kin obligations among Indigenous communities and between crown and (post-revolutionary) federal officials produced different answers in different places to the foundational question, “Whose laws make property?” which Borsk shows cannot be answered without Indigenous family history.