Seth Archer

Vaccination, Dispossession, and the Indigenous Interior

Tue, April 4, 2023

This article explores a poorly understood smallpox vaccination campaign targeting Native Americans in the 1830s. While previous scholars have addressed the motivations of U.S. officials in launching the campaign, the author focuses on Indigenous people’s interest in disease prevention and their reception of American physicians and vaccine technology across a broad swath of North America. Resistance to vaccination was not uncommon among Native people, yet many were open to the new form of preventive medicine, including some who sought it out and others who demanded it from the government. Departing from a scholarly consensus, the author argues, first, that the federal vaccination program should be viewed as a successful public health intervention in Indian Country and, second, that this success owed to Indigenous nations’ desire for protection against a singularly destructive pathogen.