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?

This entry was posted in Author: Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Book Review, Scholarship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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