- Re-collecting Black Hawk: Landscape, Memory, and Power in the American Midwest by Nicholas A. Brown, Sarah E. Kanouse
An excerpt from an 1877 Iowa newspaper advertisement, “John Loes’ Proclamation,” reads, “I have just received a consignment of the celebrated Black-Hawk, Defiance, Eagle and McDonald walking plows which will be sold cheap for cash.” Presumably, the Black-Hawk plow was used to till the very land ceded after the so-called Black Hawk War.1
Nicholas A. Brown and Sarah E. Kanouse are to be commended for their success in producing a thought-provoking and unconventional examination of numerous issues imperative to Native American and Indigenous studies. The stories surrounding the resistance legacy of the Sauk leader Makataimeshekiakiak (Black Hawk) and his resilient descendant relatives combine to create a powerful vehicle for examining, among many concepts, the often commingled Native-settler midwestern history.2 That vehicle takes readers on an intellectual (and sometimes emotional) exploration of historical content, archival ephemera, and beyond to the current scholarship of Native and non-Native researchers in the discipline, personal perspectives from contemporary Indigenous community leaders, and a pictorial gallery of the commonplace commercial and historical images speckling the built landscape of the broader Mississippi River Valley—a gallery striking for its extensiveness and redundant imagery of “Black Hawk” as brand and place-name.
When considering the admirable efforts of these two authors, the words of an on-site reporter covering Hurricane Katrina come to mind. [End Page 124] The reporter told his live tv audience, “The effects are so widespread that, in the scheme of things, my perspective is no more than a view through a soda straw. It would take hundreds of soda straws to give you the full picture.” Embarking on this multiyear project, Brown and Kanouse equipped themselves with a large assortment of “soda straws,” collecting information from numerous vantage points and a host of reliable sources and selecting almost 170 original black-and-white images. They also adopted a refreshing, liberating format by minimizing author reiterations and allowing the excerpted materials, interview transcriptions, photos, essays, and other selections to serve as switchbacks, alternating from specific material on Black Hawk and the Sac and Fox Meskwaki to more in-depth explorations of the broader issues affecting Indigenous peoples worldwide.
A casual internet search of the name “Black Hawk” likely yields a long list of headlines about the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup title, followed by photos of the military helicopter, then numerous portraits and representations of the renowned Sauk leader, and eventually a link to Brown and Kanouse’s collaboration. While the book offers readers a captivating illustration of Black Hawk, researchers would be misguided to expect an intricately detailed chronology of his life and leadership. Neither is this the final word on the often-explicated genocidal footprint of Manifest Destiny, or even the end-all definition and depiction of appropriation at its worst (though it certainly offers a prime example). These were not the coauthors’ intended outcomes.
Instead, Re-collecting Black Hawk provides researchers, faculty, and students with an excellent means by which to create a fuller picture of the ramifications of midwestern settlement, increasing their understanding and empathy, diminishing denial, and spotting intersections of the overarching concepts of decolonization and cultural reclamation, along with issues such as cultural erasure; repatriation; treaty making/breaking; the exercise of and challenges to Native American religious freedom; objectification via so-called Indian sports mascots; the ethnocentric, sometimes violence-laden pitfalls of terminology (i.e., the non-interchangeability of descriptors such as war, conflict, uprising, battle, and massacre); challenges to cultural revitalization and language preservation; Indian boarding schools; and the often mutually exclusive acts of “celebrating” and “commemorating” when it comes to Indigenous people noting historic events dotting the American calendar.3 [End Page 125]
For teaching faculty like me, the authors provide a book that efficiently lends itself to the undergraduate classroom. In addition, its theoretical joists are well placed, such that a...