Food, control, and resistance: Rations and indigenous peoples in the American Great Plains and South Australia

Tamara J. Levi
Dept. of History, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
July, 2006


Food is an important component of culture. It is important in religion, ceremonies, celebrations, cultural knowledge and transmission, as well as survival. Because of its significance, colonial governments provided and manipulated rations as part of their assimilation policies directed at indigenous peoples. The governments of the United States and Australia, from the nineteenth through the twentieth centuries, used rations to control indigenous movement, encourage European-style habits, decrease indigenous independence, and increase dependence on European goods. However, indigenous peoples have taken rations for their own reasons, with their own interpretations of the process, and incorporated them into their cultural systems, frustrating the assimilation plans of the government. Pawnees and Osages in the United States and Moorundie Aborigines and Ngarrindjeris in South Australia received rations but were never completely assimilated into the surrounding non-indigenous culture.