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  • The American Indian Intellectual Tradition: An Anthology of Writings from 1772 to 1972
  • Mattie Harper
David Martinez, ed. The American Indian Intellectual Tradition: An Anthology of Writings from 1772 to 1972. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. 272 pp. Cloth, $79.95; paper, $29.95.

When David Martinez sought to edit an anthology that would bring a “Native perspective” to Indian law and policy, the overwhelming presence of non-Indian voices in the historical record and a critical scholarly wariness of “famous Indian speeches” led him to consider the comparatively small body of writings by early American Indian intellectuals. This anthology is the result, enabling a wide audience to appreciate the exciting and much overlooked intellectual heritage that American Indian writers have developed over the years.

As the title suggests, the volume focuses on the tradition of American Indian political thought from the Colonial era to the time when the Red Power movement was at its height. Such an historical arc highlights a pattern of shared themes across the centuries, illustrating a coherent intellectual tradition constituted of Indian engagement with federal and state policies and ideas regarding Indians. In his excellent introduction, Martinez stresses that this volume departs from mainstream approaches to the history of American Indian law and policy by putting Indian voices front and center. Moreover, it presents a diverse array of indigenous voices because, as Martinez emphasizes, Indian intellectuals were not a homogeneous group but, rather, expressed a wide range of opinions and ideas. However, what the writers shared, Martinez notes, is the “impulse for survival” that is behind their work (x). As a result of the tragedies and crises that Indian peoples were forced to confront, Indian writers sought to enlighten (white) audiences about the so-called Indian problem. As early as the 1770s, “educated Indians” began communicating with white audiences, drawing on personal experience that grew out of both indigenous and “white” education systems. Through a Native perspective on history and politics, they attempted to disrupt stereotypes about Indians, to present political solutions for addressing the “Indian problem,” and to garner support for their ideas.

Martinez clearly sets out three goals for the anthology: (1) “to provide a broad historical perspective on the development of indigenous political thinking”; [End Page 394] (2) “to demonstrate the recurring issues, problems, and themes inherent to Indian-White relations, as seen from the Indian perspective”; and (3) “to argue that native political thinkers today are part of a distinctly indigenous intellectual tradition, distinct from the legal tradition created by Euro-American legalists and politicians” (xiv). In doing so, Martinez takes writings that have been previously anthologized as literary history and folklore and firmly moves them into intellectual history.

The volume is divided into three parts, featuring writings and excerpts from works composed by twenty-nine individual authors who worked as activists and sought to influence developments in federal Indian affairs. Each section includes an introduction that presents important social and political context for each historical epoch. The first section is about the era of the Indian Removal Act, from the 1770s to the 1850s; the next section is on the era of reservations and Indian agents, from the 1880s to the 1920s; and the third section, from the 1930s to the 1970s, covers the era of the Indian Reorganization Act and the rise of self-determination.

The writings in this volume document the many different Indian responses to “civilization,” Christianity, and colonization and reveal many different phases of political identity formation. Most of the essays represent perspectives on critical issues that continue to be debated and discussed in Indian Country. Discussing matters such as legal cases, political legislation, and the status of treaty rights as well as making creative proposals to implement new forms of political organization, the authors include ministers, anthropologists, government bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, novelists, and poets. One aspect I found particularly compelling was not only how the writings seemed to be in conversation but how they seemed to be in lively debate with one another. For example, many members of the Society of American Indians (SAI) advocated for reform of the Indian Bureau, including Charles Eastman, in 1915. But Sherman Coolidge, co-founder of...


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pp. 394-396
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