'This Indian Country': Battling for Native American rights through nonviolent resistance
Frederick Hoxie's "This Indian Country" documents the unsung heroes who battled for Native American rights nonviolently. Hoxie will discuss his book Friday Nov. 2 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
Frederick E. HoxieThe author of "This Indian Country" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. next Friday, Nov. 2, at the Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
"Since 1492 Native people [have] spent far more time negotiating, lobbying and debating than they spent tomahawking settlers or shooting at soldiers," Frederick E. Hoxie writes in the introduction to his provocative new book, "This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made" (Penguin Press, 469 pp., $32.95). That statement summarizes Hoxie's theme: While warriors such as Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Geronimo and Chief Joseph were getting headlines, other Native Americans were quietly using words to resist white conquest.
Hoxie, professor of history and law at the University of Illinois and author of several previous books, says the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolution and established the United States as an independent nation, also ignored the nation's original inhabitants, effectively erasing them from the map. "The American habit of disregarding living Indians is not founded in ignorance or prejudice," he says; "it is the product of history."
Much of that sorry history is woven into this account of Native Americans who nonviolently resisted the loss of their homelands, cultures and even their lives by fighting back with words.
Most are unfamiliar names: James McDonald, a Choctaw who became the first Native American lawyer; William Potter Ross, a Princeton graduate and Cherokee leader; Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute who became the first Native American woman to publish a book (and who lived for a time on Washington's Yakama Reservation); and the Mille Lacs band of Ojibwes, who fought the illegal occupation of their Minnesota homelands.
Others include Thomas Sloan, Omaha attorney; Robert Yellowtail, Crow leader and tribal-rights advocate; Alice Jemison, Seneca leader and syndicated newspaper columnist; D'Arcy McNickle, Salish intellectual and novelist who joined the staff of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's reformist Indian commissioner, John Collier; and Vine Deloria Jr., Sioux, who taught briefly at Western Washington University in the early 1970s and went on to become a professor, philosopher of Native American affairs and author of many books, including "Custer Died for Your Sins," "God is Red" and "The Trail of Broken Treaties."
Most of these relatively unknown activists saw their efforts end in frustration, but Hoxie argues that each in his or her own way advanced the cause of Native Americans until their voices began to be heard by all three branches of the federal government.
The result: "By November 2000 there was a national consensus in the United States on the future of American Indians and their governments," Hoxie says. "Indians would be citizens. Their tribes would function as local governments, enjoying most of the privileges granted them in treaties with the United States ... The clarity of this consensus is more than a historical surprise.
"It is also a reminder that the modern government-to-government relationship between tribes and federal authorities did not emerge from some domestic political reform of the Progressive Era or the New Deal but from the work of American Indian political activists."
Yet "it would be foolish to claim that in 2000 the enemies of tribal sovereignty had been banished from the United States," Hoxie asserts, or that belief in "Indian backwardness" had been eradicated.
"It would be incorrect also to assume that all was well in Indian America. Anti-Indian groups calling for abrogation of treaties and the abolition of reservations continued to function, particularly among non-Indians living near tribes that were enforcing their treaty rights to fish, water, and other resources." Native Americans also continued suffering from poverty, poor health care, inadequate housing, shoddy schools and the lasting scars of centuries of ill treatment.
"Still, the place Native Americans occupied in 2000 ... tell[s] us that profound changes had taken place since the time of the nation's founding," Hoxie concludes. Those changes, he says, continue today.
Whidbey Island author Steve Raymond's latest book is "In the Very Thickest of the Fight: The Civil War Service of the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment" (Globe Pequot Press).