Book Announcement: Fred Hoxie’s “This Indian Country”

Dr. Frederick E. Hoxie will publish his new book “This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made” on October 29, 2012 with Penguin Group as part of the Penguin History of American Life series.

Here is the book blurb (taken from the Powell’s website):


A history of Indian political activism told through the inspiring stories of the men and women who defined and defended American Indian political identityIn the newest volume of the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, Frederick E. Hoxie forms a bold counternarrative to the typical understanding of Native American history. This is not a tale of bloody and doomed battles with settlers and the U.S. Army, which casts Native Americans as mere victims of U.S. expansionism. Instead, This Indian Country describes how, for more than two hundred years, Native American political activists have petitioned courts and campaigned for public opinion, seeking redress and change from the American government.

Hoxie focuses each of his chapters on people who advanced this struggle in important ways. These figures—some famous, many unknown— hoped to bridge the distance between indigenous cultures and the republican democracy of the United States through legal and political debates. Many of these figures wielded no political power in their own time, but the cumulative product of their efforts has profoundly shaped the modern political landscape. They defined a new language of “Indian rights” and created a vision of American Indian identity. In the process, they entered into a dialogue with other activist movements, from African American civil rights movements to women’s rights and other progressive organizations.

Hoxie weaves a compelling narrative that connects the individual to the tribe, the tribe to the nation, and the nation to broader historical processes. He asks readers to think deeply about how a country based on the republican values of liberty and equality managed to adapt to the complex cultural and political demands of people who refused to be ignored. As we grapple with contemporary challenges to national institutions, from inside and outside our borders, and as we reflect on the array of shifting national and cultural identities across the globe, This Indian Country provides a context and a language for understanding our present dilemmas.

I found this book to be an engaging read but really very, very sad. The second chapter, which is about the first Indian lawyer James McDonald, a Choctaw Indian, ends in McDonald’s suicide. The fourth chapter, about Sarah Winnemucca, ended with her irrelevant and forgotten (and probably blacklisted by men, both white and Indian). The sixth chapter, on Thomas Sloane, an Omaha Indian and according to Hoxie the first American Indian to argue before the Supreme Court (Sloan v United States), won his first case but seemingly lost every one after that. Being an Indian activist didn’t seem to pay.

Many people, I imagine, will purchase this book because of the final chapter, the one on Vine Deloria, Jr. As I read the chapter, I thought Vine’s inclusion here is a little bit strange. He is well known as an Indian activist, but I imagine him more as an Indian author and intellectual. Yes, he worked for NCAI in the 1960s and then went to law school. From Dr. Hoxie’s description, Vine spent the rest of his life as an academic (although Dr. Hoxie makes a great deal of hay spelling out Vine’s criticism of Indian lawyers and academics). I know Vine did a whole lot of activist-type work (for example, he worked to get the Michigan Ottawa tribes recognized by Congress), but that work isn’t obvious here. Dr. Hoxie also pointed out Vine’s dissatisfaction with the red power movement — those guys were activists, but Hoxie makes clear Vine wasn’t with them for the most part. The chapter on Vine made me ask — what exactly is an Indian activist? Am I an activist because I write on Indian affairs? Or maybe Vine was because a bunch of non-Indians read his stuff and liked it, perhaps leading to changes to Indian policy? Reading between Dr. Hoxie’s lines, I get the sense Vine’s true activist years were the six years before the University of Arizona hired Vine in the late 1970s, when he was a “freelance writer, researcher, and consultant.” Once he joined U of A’s faculty, he enjoyed “an atmosphere of economic and political security.” Are Indian activists the ones who fail?

I really enjoyed this book. But I came away wanting to not be an Indian activist. I say that somewhat facetiously. I’m teasing but there were some pretty successful activists — those people that got Nixon to give Blue Lake back to the Taos Pueblo for one for example. The people who run PLSI for another. When’s that book coming out?

On a Proposed U.S. Attorney for Indian Country

Some commentators have proposed that there should be a United States Attorney’s Office for Indian Country (h/t Indianz). Any kind of dedicated law enforcement structure for Indian Country would be a dramatic improvement, but there are still serious issues that must be addressed. This is an interesting proposal, and it should be looked at from a historical perspective.

The proposal recalls Title 4 of H.R. 7902 of the 73rd Congress, the original bill of the Indian Reorganization Act, in which the drafters (primarily Felix Cohen) proposed a Federal Court of Indian Affairs. As we all know, that part of the bill went nowhere. As Vine Deloria and Clifford Lytle noted in 1984, the federal court of Indian affairs would bring the federal courts to Indian Country, the framers of the bill recognizing that Indians had extreme practical difficulty in appearing in federal court due to georgraphic isolation.

That geographic isolation remains, as does the difficulty in traveling to appear in federal court. Part of the reason, according to present and former U.S. Attorneys, that the declination rates in Indian Country crime are so high is this geographic isolation. Any proposal must acknowledge this factor and take steps to respond.

Another practical diffculty, not present in the same degree in the 1930s as it is now, are the jurisdictional quandries created by the checkerboarding of lands and jurisdiction. Questions about the jurisdiction of the proposed USAIC will be raised by the USAs already in Indian Country (ND, MI, WA, ID, AZ, NM, and so on). Declinations also result from the added difficulty of proving Indian Country status as an element of the crime committed. The new USAIC will not help this problem.

We continue to firmly believe that any Indian Country law enforcement program must involve the reaffirmation of tribal criminal jurisdiction. Expansion of federal capacities, while an improvement, cannot solve the problem.

Blast from the Past: Vine Deloria Review of Dee Brown

Here is a short book review by Vine Deloria, Jr. of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, published in the Texas Law Review in 1972 (deloria-review-of-brown). An excerpt:

There are, to be sure, numerous tears shed on behalf of our red brothers. But there lies the tragedy of what Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee really means today. The tears are not shed for the tragedies of today, for the Menominee and the Klamath, for the Seneca and the Onondaga, for the Cochiti Pueblo and the Hopi. They are shed for Chief Joseph and Red Cloud, for Kicking Bird and Tall Bull, for Manuelito and Victorio. Captain Jack becomes a modern hero to Dee Brown’s readers. Elnathan Davis, Klamath warrior of the present, is unknown and his struggle is considered unreal and unnecessary because people don’t treat Indians that way any more.

The hell they don’t.

If today’s Indians have Dee Brown to thank for unveiling the truth of the past, they have Dee Brown to curse for making it so real that it has overshadowed them and relegated their contemporary struggle to esoteric notices in the back pages of the newspapers. Another Dee Brown, in 2040, will record the destruction of the red man in the period 1950 to 1980, and wonder at the treachery of the government, marvel at the speeches of Hank Adams, Dennis Banks, Lee Cook, Oren Lyons, and leave his manuscript, puzzled that American society could have learned so little in a century of experience.