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The Third Space of Sovereignty

The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.–Indigenous Relations

Kevin Bruyneel

Publication Year: 2007

The imposition of modern American colonial rule has defined U.S.–indigenous relations since the time of the American Civil War. In resistance, Kevin Bruyneel asserts, indigenous political actors work across American spatial and temporal boundaries, demanding rights and resources from the government while also challenging the imposition of colonial rule over their lives. This resistance engenders what he calls a “third space of sovereignty,” which resides neither inside nor outside the U.S. political system but rather exists on its boundaries, exposing both the practices and limitations of American colonial rule. 


The Third Space of Sovereignty offers fresh insights on such topics as the crucial importance of the formal end of treaty-making in 1871, indigenous responses to the prospect of U.S. citizenship in the 1920s, native politics during the tumultuous civil rights era of the 1960s, the question of indigenousness in the special election of California’s governor in 2003, and the current issues surrounding gaming and casinos.


In this engaging and provocative work, Bruyneel shows how native political actors have effectively contested the narrow limits that the United States has imposed on indigenous people’s ability to define their identity and to develop economically and politically on their own terms.


Kevin Bruyneel is assistant professor of politics at Babson College.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Indigenous Americas


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

A Note on Terminology

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Politics on the Boundaries

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p. xi

Where do indigenous people fit in relation to the American political system—inside, outside, or somewhere in between? How have the historical and modern expressions of colonialism shaped the modern U.S.– indigenous political relationship? What are the differences between indigenous and American political actors in the way they answer these questions? To start to find some answers, take a...

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1. The U.S.–Indigenous Relationship: A Struggle over Colonial Rule

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pp. 1-26

In his 1950 Discours sur le colonialisme, Martinique poet and dramatist Aimé Césaire argued that one of the fundamental dilemmas and defining traits of colonial rule is that “it is the colonized man who wants to move forward, and the colonizer who holds things back.”1 Césaire’s claim rebutted the colonialist imaginary of a progressive and thus advancing settler society that seeks to...

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2. Resisting American Domestication: The U.S. Civil War and the Cherokee Struggle to Be "Still, a Nation"

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pp. 27-64

In an article on Native American sovereignty, Steven McSloy argues that the time from the passage of U.S. federal Indian crime legislation in the 1880s to the American state’s repression of indigenous political activism in the 1960s and 1970s indicated that “in less than a century, Native peoples were transformed in the...

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3. 1871 and the Turn to Postcolonial Time in U.S.–Indigenous Relations

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pp. 65-96

From the Civil War to the early twentieth century, the relationship between the United States and indigenous people went through a decisive change that remarked the status and location of indigenous tribes and nations in their relationship to the American political system. During this period the boundaries defining American sovereignty were solidified as they expanded, drawing indigenous communities...

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4. Indigenous Politics and the "Gift" of U.S. Citizenship in the Early Twentieth Century

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pp. 97-122

One of the many questions indigenous people faced in the fi rst decades of the twentieth century concerned their individual political status in relation to the American political system: were all indigenous people, henceforth, to be citizens of their tribes, citizens of the United States, or dual citizens? Or, to paraphrase Deloria and Wilkins, would some indigenous people in the U.S. context...

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5. Between Civil Rights and Decolonization: The Claim for Postcolonial Nationhood

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pp. 123-170

During the politically vibrant decade of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, boundary politics continued to defi ne U.S.–indigenous relations. By that time, indigenous political actors faced the tension of having to construct and express their politics betwixt and between a civil rights framework predominant in the United States and the nationalist decolonization framework common to many post–World War II third world struggles. The dominant trend in indigenous...

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6. Indigenous Sovereignty versus Colonial Time at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century

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pp. 171-216

For the fi rst time in well over a century, a number of indigenous tribes are articulating their sovereignty in a manner that is fostering their enhanced economic and political capacity to reclaim indigenous location in North America in the form of literal territory and increasingly eff ective political agency and autonomy. In response, the United States, primarily state and local governments and citizen groups but also the U.S. Supreme Court, increasingly views tribal...

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Conclusion: The Third Space of Sovereignty

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pp. 217-230

In writing this book, a question often popped into my mind, the one famously posed by postcolonial theorist Gayatri Spivak: “Can the subaltern speak?” Spivak’s question is not about the vocal cords of the colonized; it is about the colonizer’s ear drums; “Can the subaltern speak?” really means, “Are the colonizers deaf?” not “Are the colonized mute?” Th is study has demonstrated ways in which the American settler - state and nation have sought, often successfully, to...

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pp. 231-234

In an existential sense, this book began long ago as I was growing up in British Columbia, where indigenous politics is a central part of the political life of the province, and where a young man with some sort of weird interest in politics could not help but notice that words like treaty and sovereignty marked sites of deep contention. In fact, it took a move to the United States, and my graduate...


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pp. 235-270


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pp. 271-290


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pp. 291-315

E-ISBN-13: 9780816653935
E-ISBN-10: 0816653933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816649884

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Indigenous Americas
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OCLC Number: 191729349
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Third Space of Sovereignty

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Politics and government.
  • Indians of North America -- Government relations.
  • Indians of North America -- Civil rights.
  • Self-determination, National -- United States.
  • Postcolonialism -- United States.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • United States -- Politics and government.
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