- Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Native Activism by Bradley G. Shreve
Previous treatments of "Red Power" and Native American activism in the 1960s and 1970s began their histories with the occupation of Alcatraz, lionized the male leadership of the American Indian Movement (AIM), or characterized Native activism as inspired by or derivative of the other "power" movements of the time period. Shreve challenges such portrayals by detailing the development of the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC), an organization of Native activists responsible for sparking two decades of grassroots and national activism in the mid-twentieth century. Using exhaustive archival sources and interviews with several key activists, he contextualizes the NIYC within a broader history of intertribal organizing, and traces its inception, development, key personalities, and controversies. In doing so, Shreve provides persuasive evidence that indigenous activism in the mid-century United States not only predates AIM and the Alcatraz occupation but also must be understood within the larger flow of 20th century Native American history. Doing so deepens and complicates our understandings of Native American activism at mid-century and prevents us from stereotyping "Red Power" as derivative of contemporaneous activist movements.
After reviewing intertribal and Native youth organizing in the early twentieth century in the first two chapters, Shreve's next two deal with the foundational years of the NIYC. His fifth chapter details NIYC's successful involvement with the fish-ins of the Pacific Northwest, while chapters six and seven reveal an association of activists struggling to balance grassroots activism with their status as a national organization, and militancy with the need for institutionalization. The final chapter and epilogue follow the NIYC after the push for organization won out over militancy as the late 1970s saw legislative and legal successes for Native communities and the 1980s produced a sharp right turn in national politics.
Shreve succeeds in asserting that the development of the NIYC is essential to understanding Native activism in the twentieth century. By [End Page 155] contextualizing the evolution of the NIYC with the development of other youth activism he orients the reader using more widely known histories and weaves the story of the NIYC into its time period. This tactic enhances his argument for the centrality of the NIYC in Native mid-century activism by showing its intellectual and methodological links not only to a tribal base and national Indian organizations but also to activists and activist methods throughout the country.
Shreve's portrayal of the organization shines when it evokes the compelling personalities of NIYC organizers, drawing from interviews and email correspondence Shreve conducted with surviving activists.
Shreve weaves the personal accounts, colorful details, and humor taken from these interviews into his careful reading of archival sources. His use of these accounts creates a feeling of familiarity with the activists who organized the NIYC—an important feat given that these activists remain largely unknown even to historians of Native America.
The richness of the personal accounts Shreve culled was so compelling I wished the narrative contained more of them. Analysis of the interviews may have benefitted from an explicit engagement with oral history theory or methodology, especially regarding the dynamics of memory and ownership of narrative. For example, the later chapters provide an almost entirely laudatory account of the most recent years of the NIYC. Finally, although the interviews are listed in the bibliography, the reader is given little information about the nature or scope of the interview process.
A final, minor critique concerns the first two chapters. Shreve over-focuses on the history of "intertribal" or "pan-Indian" organizations before the foundation of the NIYC, which works to elide his true concern:
the origins of Native activism. The earlier intertribal organizations Shreve identifies were indeed activist, but to focus on them throws into shadow the long history of grassroots activism in the tribal base—a history that provides an important context for the tribally grounded activism that characterized the first decade of...