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Reviewed by:
  • Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America
  • Gail D. MacLeitch
Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. By Daniel K. Richter. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. 317 + xii pp. $26.00.

Facing East fills a noticeable gap in the current historiography by offering a synthesized account of Native American history from a decidedly Native American perspective. Facing East is a literal attempt to face east and imagine how Indians experienced the forces of colonialization as European microbes, trade goods, peoples, and ideologies advanced westward. Although many of the events and historical processes described may be familiar, the eastward orientation coupled with a deft and imaginative writing style make for an engaging and refreshing read.

Of course it is not wholly possible to reconstruct a Native American perspective, especially given the scarcity of Indian-generated documents. Richter nonetheless has found creative ways of overcoming [End Page 261] this difficulty. The first chapter, titled "Imaging a DistantWorld," relies heavily on "guesstimation," drawing on actual known facts about initial encounters but filling in the blanks with imagined possible scenarios. The subtle writing style and sophisticated level of conceptual thinking produces a convincing set of stories, while the chapter as a whole offers an important counterweight to the innumerable studies that detail European "imaginings" of the New World. Chapter 2, which examines how European trade goods and disease reshaped the material existence of Native Americans, is another example of Richter's gift for subtlety. He strikes a comfortable balance between outlining the "abstract material forces" recontouring the Indians' world and the subtle but significant ways they responded to such forces. Indians are not passive victims in Richter's study, nor does he fall back on older romanticized depictions of Indian agency and heroism.

In chapter 3, Richter focuses on three familiar sixteenth-century figures, Pocahontas, Tekakwitha, and Metacom, no doubt because of the availability of related sources. By weaving together their hitherto disparate stories into a single chapter, Richter attempts to do something new with them: demonstrate the common historical landscape they inhabited and highlight the similar pressures they confronted and the divergent paths they chose, all the while hinting at alternative possible outcomes. In chapter 4, Richter reproduces large chunks of Indian texts from New England Indians' conversion narratives and the political speech of a Mohawk Iroquois orator. By so doing, he seeks to allow the Indians to literally speak for themselves, while he gently teasing out the meaning and significance of their words. This is an exercise fraught with difficulty. The involvement of Europeans in the translation, recording, and editing of such documents means it is not easy to decipher a genuine Indian voice, something that Richter remains acutely aware of. Collectively, it is questionable how representative the Indians in chapters 3 and 4 that Richter has chosen to focus on are. But given the paucity of Indian sources, this methodology, while not ideal, makes sense.

Chapter 5 discusses the relationship between Native Americans and the imperial world. Richter convincingly argues that for much of the eighteenth century Indian and Euro-American histories "moved along parallel paths," entangled as they were in webs of mutual dependency because of the exigencies of trade and war. This chapter reflects recent trends in historiography that have attempted to situate, if not center, Native peoples within a broader Atlantic history. Indians did not exist on the fringes of empire as peripheral and unimportant figures. Their role as consumers and producers for the Atlantic economy, [End Page 262] as well as their martial and diplomatic exploits that enabled them to play off imperial powers during colonial wars, demonstrate their centrality to the process of empire building in North America.

The final chapter chronicles the unravelling of Indian-white coexistence. From the close of the SevenYears'War (1763) until the 1830s, Indians and white Americans grew further apart as the latter gained economic and political dominance over the former, and as a developing racial ideology was increasingly employed to alienate and oppress Native Americans. Richter interestingly considers how Native Americans also developed racialized ways of thinking, but clearly the balance of power was uneven. The Early National...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8050
Print ISSN
1045-6007
Pages
pp. 261-263
Launched on MUSE
2004-07-16
Open Access
No
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