- A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn
For people interested in getting an undiluted “Indian perspective” on the state of Native America in the twenty-first century, they need look no further than Elizabeth Cook-Lynn’s A Separate Country. The author, who grew up on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, is professor emerita of Native American studies at Eastern Washington University. The book features nineteen essays that reveal the author’s “private expressions” on a broad array of issues. A dominant theme is her contention that the colonization of Indian Country is an ongoing tragedy and to suggest otherwise (i.e. that the relationship between the federal government and indigenous peoples has entered a postcolonial phase) is “an outrageous fraud perpetuated by scholars, thinkers, politicians, and historians” (xvi). In order for any type of meaningful and lasting reconciliation to occur, she argues, several important steps must first take place: 1) academics must rethink and reconstruct the traditional self-congratulatory historical narrative of American history and acknowledge the harm its genocidal and economically self-serving policies have inflicted on indigenous peoples; 2) the federal government and Supreme Court must disavow the use of plenary power and repudiate the doctrine of discovery; 3) Indian lands must be restored; 4) the federal government and Supreme Court must recognize the sovereignty of Indian Nations—not as nations within a nation—but as separate countries with whom the United States may again negotiate treaties.
Historians will readily identify many of Cook-Lynn’s arguments with those espoused by 1960s era nationalist groups such as the American Indian Movement (AIM), an organization she maintains was “probably the most important protest movement in the twentieth century” (17). On the other hand, she is silent about the important changes in federal Indian policy that took place simultaneously (some would argue in response to Indian militancy)—a period known to scholars as the “Era of Indian Self-Determination.” Given the author’s aforementioned criteria required to usher in a true period of postcoloniality, the self-determination reforms of the 1960s–70s were little more than cynical efforts to coopt rising Indian discontent.
Several outstanding and profound essays in A Separate Country offer unique [End Page 96] insights for both students and teachers of American Indian history. The author’s treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s role in manifest destiny, the true meaning of the Ghost Dance, and ongoing efforts to promote tourism and casino gambling in Indian Country are particularly interesting. The chapter entitled “Taku Inichiapi? What’s in a Name?” which examines the harm caused by imposters (Indian wannabes) such as Ward Churchill and the lack of appropriate punishment when their fraud is exposed is first rate. There are other essays, however, that appeared to emanate more from Cook-Lynn’s liberal-feminist perspective than from an American Indian point of view. Her discussion of violence and misogyny, for example, reveals a good deal more about the author’s disdain for Christian churches, abortion opponents, and for George W. Bush than it does about the problems facing American Indians in the twenty-first century.
In the concluding chapters of the book, Cook-Lynn examines some of the proposed “solutions” to the many problems in Indian Country that she traces to ongoing colonization. Amending the Constitution in such a way to strengthen tribal sovereignty, creating an Indian state, honoring past treaties, and reservation economic development all possess certain benefits, she argues, but returning “stolen and otherwise confiscated indigenous lands” must be a prerequisite. (173) While her arguments for land restoration certainly possess legal, moral, and ethical foundations, there must also be (like it or not) a politically realistic solution. Without one, postcoloniality will continue to be a word to “dazzle the minds” of both Native peoples and those who have no stake in tribal nation autonomy (181).