There has been a recent resurgence of scholarship concerning Shawnee history that has moved well beyond the works of Henry Harvey (1855) or Jerry Clark (1993). Sami Lakomäki’s contribution to this growing historiography is monumental in scope and execution. The story of the Shawnee nation begins in the seventeenth century, but Lakomäki first provides a clear and concise discussion of the archaeological background concerning the Fort Ancient and Cumberland cultural patterns from which they developed. From this broad and well-researched base, the narrative establishes the myriad travels of the five distinct Shawnee bands, culminating in their relative consolidation in the Ohio Valley during the mid-eighteenth century. In every instance of national consolidation, Lakomäki also discusses the issues concerning the outliers and dissidents who complicated the development of a centralized nation. The Seven Years’ War and its aftermath, while equally as formative as in Ian Steele’s article “Shawnee Origins of Their Seven Years’ War” (Ethnohistory, 2006), is described as a complex interplay of internal Shawnee collaboration and conflict, [End Page 730] adaptation and conservatism. The author continually, and powerfully, recasts historical events from a Shawnee perspective. The American Revolution, for instance, is described as part of a Twenty Years’ War, from 1775 to 1795, as their struggles persisted beyond the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
Unlike many books concerning Native American history, the narrative is devoid of American “nationalism,” instead balancing British and American motivations as background to explanations of Shawnee actions. Attempts to politically centralize the Shawnee during the early American republic highlight the continuity of national concerns over political consolidation and cultural autonomy. Europeans often ignored or misunderstood Shawnee nationalism; expecting to find rigid aristocratic political control, instead they found structurally flexible and diverse meritocracies. Shawnee understood “leadership as persuasion, not as coercion” but had to find ways to satisfy these English expectations “otherwise the aggressive empire might take indiscriminate revenge on all Shawnees” (pp. 80–81). This proved an untenable balancing act, which was neither graceful nor ultimately successful. During the 1830s and 1840s, the Shawnee people moved and were forced westward, and the narrative remains focused on their continued factionalism in their new homes in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. The author leaves the Shawnee in the mid-nineteenth century after a series of diasporas and consolidations much like their story began, living in multi-ethnic villages across “vast lands surrounding and separating them not as insurmountable wilderness, but as a ‘kinscape’” (p. 33).
Despite the wide historical breadth, Lakomäki’s narrative is well researched and grounded in the cultural dynamics of the Shawnee. Stephen Warren’s The World the Shawnee Made (2014) similarly examines the effects of Shawnee migrations but from a higher altitude by focusing on the sociopolitical landscape east of the Mississippi and only reaches the mid-eighteenth century. Lakomäki zooms in on particular Shawnee bands, villages, and sometimes individuals and their role in internal sociopolitical structures of the larger Shawnee nation. [End Page 731]
The book is written entirely from an internal Shawnee perspective rather than from the white outsiders they came into contact with. The narrative provides a balanced answer to James Merrell’s “Second Thoughts on Colonial Historians and American Indians” (William and Mary Quarterly, 2012) about the language of Native American history. More than mere substitution, the explanation and use of Shawnee language concepts like hokimas (civil leader), neenawtooma (war leader), and mšikamekwi (council houses) is combined with cultural analysis of their changing significance in each historical period. Yet, throughout the book readers are provided clear paths through the complexities of Shawnee cultural and political identities. Whether the Mekoches were seeking to unite the five bands under their leadership and negotiate with the Europeans, or dissident Kishpokos were fracturing off to fight against centralization and encroachment, the world of the Shawnee balanced fragmentation and autonomy with attempts to find safety in numbers.
Lakomäki’s strongest contribution may be his concluding chapter, which is an elegant synthesis...