- Manifesting America: The Imperial Construction of U.S. National Space
“To the Victors go the spoils!” seethed a family acquaintance after I detailed to him the legal and U.S. Constitutional roots of Indian gaming as located in the continuance of legible Native sovereignty “within” the boundaries of our United States, his Oklahoma, and my Indian Territory. Faced with such articulations of U.S. imperialism within a seemingly inevitable genealogy and modus operandi of world empires, it is all too easy, as I did in this instance, to accept the narrative that the West was won, so to speak, at the barrel of a gun. [End Page 77] Not so, of course. As the historian Patricia Limerick has pointed out, the West was won for U.S. hegemony largely by lawyers, not gunslingers.
How it was that alternative nations, territories, and peoples came to be understood as within the “domestic” sphere of the United States is the focus of Mark Rifkin’s sweeping book, which through four regionally focused case-study chapters articulates the various specific ways in which non-U.S. space, jurisdiction, and regional/ tribal identity was contested within and outside the margins of U.S. imperialism not so much through violence as through rhetorical battles over what would count or not count as jurisdiction over a given space. The most exciting element of this book is its focus on the regional framework in exploring this issue. Rifkin traces distinct geographical spaces (the South, the Upper Midwest, Texas, and California) as those spaces change jurisdiction from Cherokee territory to Georgian; from the Great Lakes region of numerous tribal nations such as the Sauk and Ho-Chunk as well as the British empire to the northern and middle border of a country engaged in a project of “Manifest Destiny”; from southern Comancheria and the Northern Mexico of Tejano citizens to the republic and later state of Texas; and from the homeland of numerous Indigenous California tribal nations such as the Cupeño and Cahuilla and the Alta California Hispanic Mexican citizens to the United States, which both legally protected and confiscated their property through the administration of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The book literally covers a lot of ground.
By focusing on the regional and specific rather than on the tribal, national, or individual as the framework of his study, Rifkin extends “a certain geopolitical grammar” (49) for discussing these very distinct “imperially interpellated peoples” (26), whether they be rich or poor Cherokees and Tejanos, culturally accommodationist or resistant Sauk leaders, or Californio landholders or the Indigenous tribal peoples whose land claims those landholders ignored and aggregated to themselves under Mexican imperialism. The regional framework is far more messy than studies that focus on U.S. minority populations or Indigenous nations to the exclusion of each other, and yet [End Page 78] in Rifkin’s precise monograph we get a work attendant to the necessarily complicated issues of who exactly constitutes “us” and “them” and who must be left out, or actively rejected, in order to sustain those rhetorical communities.
Different rhetorical formulations of empire all too often lead to resistance along the lines set up by empire itself. Thus in resisting U.S. and Georgian hegemony, the Cherokee elite chose to elide other competing forms of authority within the greater Cherokee community itself, a process that in rhetorically challenging imperial constructions outside, particularly the powerful rhetoric of “civilized” and “savage” others, ended up “becoming a vehicle for reordering indigenous socio-spatiality and the relations among” the Cherokees themselves (74). As Rifkin uses Cherokee memorials, history, and governing documents as rhetorical remainders of these internal and external strategies, the inherent complexity of Indigenous polity emerges up and against the broad narrative of elite Cherokee life as somehow the historical totality of Cherokee life and perspective, as the Cherokee elites re-created Cherokee authority around themselves. Indeed, Rifkin finds in the Cherokee Constitution itself, based on a convention to be convened in the Cherokee Nation on July 4, 1827, a...