Native Americans, Oneida Nation, Indian removal, American Revolution
Karim Tiro’s study of the Oneida Indians between the mid eighteenth and mid nineteenth century is a welcome contribution to an increasingly crowded field of study. Drawing on a wide source base of missionary correspondence, Oneida petitions, government reports, and treaty minutes, Tiro traces the Oneidas’ struggles with the American Revolution and its aftermath. The Oneidas’ transformation from a military, political, and territorial power in what is now upstate New York to a people scattered among tiny reservations in Wisconsin, Canada, Kansas, and the Empire State in the space of just eighty years is, Tiro notes, testament to the forceful determination of the early republic to dispossess even its Indian allies. He adds that the Oneidas’ survival as a distinct people defensive of their rights is equal evidence of their refusal to cave in to this power.
Portions of this story have been told recently by a number of scholars, such as Alan Taylor, David J. Norton, Lawrence Hauptman, and Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin, among others, yet Tiro advances the conversation in several respects. Whereas the aforementioned scholars either treat the Iroquois as a whole or focus on the years of the Revolution, Tiro narrows in on the Oneidas but over the course of a century. What this perspective sacrifices in terms of contextual breadth, it makes up in terms of ethnographic detail and time depth. Tiro is particularly attuned to shifting factions within the Oneida community and how those divisions influenced land cessions and migration. Likewise, he provides a sensitive reading of the dynamic role of Christianity [End Page 730] in Oneida spiritual and political life. Even as Tiro explores divisions within the Oneidas and the Iroquois as a whole, he makes a powerful argument that the Iroquois behaved rather civilly toward each other during their so-called civil wars of the Revolution and War of 1812. By this he means that the Patriot Oneidas made every effort to avoid engaging Loyalist Iroquois and to warn them when trouble was coming. Tiro also joins a growing chorus of historians who emphasize that Indian removal took place in the North as well as the South and, in the case of New York, under state auspices. Not the least of all, Tiro traces Oneida land loss in compelling detail, including the underhanded methods of New York and United State officials, the Oneidas who sometimes colluded with them, and the many Oneidas who protested them. Thus, though Tiro is reluctant to place his study in historiographical context, his contributions are significant. People of the Standing Stone is the best account of the Oneidas during the long era of the Revolution.
This is not a simple story of either loss or persistence or of either victimhood or subaltern agency. People of the Standing Stone acknowledges the real toll the Oneidas suffered because of white grasping, internal factionalism, alcohol abuse, and landed dispossession. At the same time, Tiro is sensitive to the ways in which the Oneidas made their cultural traditions relevant in the face of these steep challenges. Along similar lines, Tiro sees the Oneidas as important actors in this dark chapter in their history without denying that American colonialism put serious restrictions on their options. Tiro is to be applauded for this balance and nuance.
David J. Silverman, George Washington University, is the author of Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America (Ithaca, NY, 2010).