Review: "This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made"
This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made
Throughout Frederick Hoxie’s book, This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made, the author provides an analysis of Native American activists and their quest to define “a place for American Indian communities within the boundaries and institutions of the United States” (Hoxie, 11). Through an examination of American and Indian relations from the Revolutionary War to the present day, Hoxie argues that Native American activists endeavored tirelessly to prevent federal encroachment on the lives, culture, and societies of Indian tribes. Rather than taking up a military-style defense of their culture and beliefs, however, Hoxie argues that many of these activists sought to make their voices heard through non-aggressive and peaceful measures: formal protests, appeals to the general public for support, and through an active engagement with the United States government through any legal option that manifested itself. By educating themselves with a significant understanding of American politics, government practices, and law, Hoxie argues that these activists were better-equipped to deal with state and federal encroachments on their liberties and rights as Native Americans. Through their tremendous insight into American law and politics, Hoxie posits that Indians were able to effectively “use the…language, values, and institutions” of the United States to mount a successful defense of both their culture and way of life; assuring that Indians would maintain a place beside white Americans for many years to come (Hoxie, 11).
Hoxie's Main Points
Hoxie’s argument adds substantially to the current field of historiographical research in that he rejects scholarly interpretations that portray early Native American activists in a negative light. Although many of the early attempts to stymie governmental control resulted in failure for these activists (as illustrated by many historical accounts), Hoxie argues that these shortcomings and disappointments contributed greatly to the Native American cause in that they helped Indians sustain a separate identity from the United States. As Hoxie demonstrates, the identity of Native Americans as a separate and distinct race would have been lost through the federal government’s attempts at assimilation (and dissolution) of Native culture if not for the tireless efforts of activists to prevent this from occurring. By addressing this issue, therefore, Hoxie’s argument effectively dispels the arguments of historians that Indian resistance was limited to the battlefield and general warfare; ironically, as Hoxie demonstrates, many of the greatest victories for Native Americans were won by Indians that never fired a shot, nor took up arms against the U.S. government. Hoxie’s conclusion summarizes this point nicely by stating: “many of these people [activists] admired the warriors and military strategists who had opposed the Americans…but during their lifetimes they put their faith in a future in which Indians and non-Indians would share the North American continent rather than fight over it” (Hoxie, 393).
Questions for Further Discussion
Hoxie’s work inspired many questions. In particular, I found myself drawn to his discussion of early Indian and American relations during the eighteenth-century. For starters, did the fact that many Indians aided the British during the American Revolution hurt their chances of establishing good relations with the United States when it was first founded? More specifically, were these actions of Natives seen as treasonous by white Americans who were struggling to gain independence from Great Britain at the time? Had the natives come to the aid of Americans during the war, would relations between the two have been better in the future? Or were relations between whites and Indians doomed from the very beginning? This series of questions also poses a route for additional inquiry regarding the British: had the British won the Revolutionary War instead, would Native Americans have maintained more autonomy and freedom under British rule given that they had proven themselves as worthwhile allies to the Crown?
Other questions that come to mind for this reading, include: What did Americans hope to gain from forcing Indians onto reservations? Did these reservations represent a case of cultural genocide in that Americans sought to assimilate Indians into their culture over time? Is the threat of assimilation the reason why so many Indian activists were reluctant to be removed to reservations? Moreover, why did Americans perceive Indians to be an inferior race? Did popular entertainment encourage this stereotype?
In their attempts to “civilize” the Native Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, did American ideas about the Indians contain similarities to the practices of European imperialism during this time? I believe this is an important question to contemplate when one considers the actions of Britain towards India during the eighteenth and nineteenth-centuries. In their quest to control India, the British possessed a similar “civilizing” mission of their own, in which they attempted to impose Western ideals of liberty, property, and law on what they perceived as an inferior race of people. As a result, can parallels be drawn between both the British and Americans in their desire to civilize Indians and Native Americans?
Jumping ahead in time a bit, Hoxie’s book also inspired multiple questions regarding the Civil Rights era. Did Native American activists gain momentum with their ideas following the advent of the Civil Rights Movement? Specifically, did the actions of African-Americans – particularly in the South – help motivate and solidify the campaign of Native activists in their quest for rights? Finally, did the actions of Black Americans serve as a model for Indian protests in the Sixties and Seventies? This is a particularly relevant question since I believe that one can draw significant parallels between protests such as “fish-ins” and “sit-ins” by both Indians and African-Americans during this time.
Hoxie’s book offers a newfound approach to the study of Native American history that is both fascinating and intriguing. Hoxie’s book is well-researched and documented, and the author’s thesis is both well-formulated and clear in its presentation. I was particularly impressed with the manner in which Hoxie organized this work – chronologically – and his ability to express his argument through an analysis of Native American culture over such a broad period of time (from the American Revolution to the present). By dedicating his attention to particular Indian activists across this large expanse of America’s past, his work not only enhanced my overall knowledge of Native American history, but it also introduced me to a wide array of Indian activists that I had no prior knowledge of. As a result, Hoxie’s book was both highly informative and enlightening from beginning to end. I found it very interesting that these Indian activists are so often ignored by mainstream accounts of Native American history given that they all contributed a great deal to the survival of Indian culture amidst harsh and often brutal encroachments by white Americans on their lives.
Hoxie also does a great job of tracing the stories of these activists and, in turn, provides a narrative that not only adds to current historiographical interpretations, but also preserves the positive contributions that these individuals made in their lifetimes. This is particularly important, since the contributions of these various activists have often been viewed/portrayed in a negative light by historians that choose to focus on their failures, rather than the success of their endeavors.
Hoxie's book is a fascinating read from start to finish. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Native American (and United States) history from the Revolutionary era to the present. I give this work 5/5 Stars!
Definitely check it out!
Hoxie, Frederick E. This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made. Penguin Books, 2012.