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197 CHAPTER 13 Positioning the American Indian Self-Determination Movement in the Era of Civil Rights JOHN J. LAUKAITIS In the film Smoke Signals, written by Sherman Alexie (Coeur d’Alene/ Spokane), Thomas Builds-The-Fire provides insight into how American Indians have been positioned in the history of the civil rights era. The film’s central storyteller, Thomas, says, “During the sixties, Arnold Joseph was the perfect hippie, since all the hippies were trying to be Indians anyway . But because of that, he was always wondering how anybody would recognize when an Indian was trying to make a social statement.”1 Alexie directs attention to one of the common problems of teaching American Indian activism, namely, that the activism of American Indians during the 1960s and 1970s is commonly undifferentiated in its underlying meaning and grouped with civil rights activism. In this way, American Indian self-determination often becomes an extension of the civil rights movement in U.S. history survey courses. While self-determination did parallel the civil rights movement in time and, in many instances, form, self-determination was distinctly different from the pursuit of civil rights in its purpose and intent. Unlike the civil rights movement that pursued the rights of all American citizens, the self-determination movement centered on issues of sovereignty as American Indian tribes fought for their distinctive rights as independent, sovereign nations separate from the American government.2 In approaching American Indian activism during the civil rights movement , historians teaching U.S. history need to consider how they can lead students to understand that American Indian self-determination represented a separate movement within a larger framework of activism. Having students distinguish the differences between the sovereignty rights of tribal nations and the civil rights of individuals within the United States becomes a necessary starting point for integrating Indian activism during the 1960s and 1970s into history courses. Such an approach brings to light how American Indians fought for their right to be separate through a legal 198 JOHN J. LAUKAITIS demand of their distinctiveness and independence, not—as in the case of discriminated minority groups—to be integrated and given the same rights through a legal demand of their equality. Integrating American Indian activism into a U.S. history survey course possesses a great deal of potential for getting students to understand the particular aims of American Indians during the 1960s and 1970s and how those aims differed from minority groups fighting for equal protection under the law. Providing and analyzing distinctions between sovereignty rights and civil rights as they relate to American Indian and minority-group activism, respectively, allows students to expand their knowledge of social and political unrest in an era associated with protest and confrontations with power dynamics. The Theme of Activism In looking at how to best position American Indian history during the civil rights era into U.S. history survey courses, the perennial problem of having to focus on breadth rather than depth in such courses has to be addressed. By and large, U.S. survey courses focus on chronicling events rather than pursuing the cause, effect, and significance of events and discovering connections between events.3 A rethinking of how one approaches history—from learning facts toward analyzing the past—needs to take place. Efforts toward this end have been put forward, but the “facts first” approach still constrains survey courses.4 Aligning courses to the processes historians use in their own practice, such as “questioning , connecting, sourcing, making inferences, considering alternative perspectives, and recognizing the limits to one’s own knowledge,” rather than a covering of facts puts an emphasis on inquiry, not the coverage of static subject matter.5 With an emphasis on historical practice, offering opportunities for students to delve into key central themes throughout a course will allow for the meaningful integration of American Indian history. Rather than becoming an addition to the curriculum, American Indian history, if integrated authentically through the historical process and emphasized through key themes, can avoid the perception that American Indian history only deserves a place outside the dominant culture’s history. Student inquiry into a theme, for instance, on activism or the pursuit of rights during the 1960s and 1970s will allow students to begin thinking historically and discover that, while American Indian self-determination and the pursuit of sovereignty rights connect to the American Indian Self-Determination in the Era of Civil Rights 199 general theme of activism, the purpose for the activism differed from...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781469623368
Related ISBN
9781469621210
MARC Record
OCLC
907238489
Pages
352
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-23
Language
English
Open Access
No
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