- Clyde Warrior: Tradition, Community, and Red Power by Paul R. McKenzie-Jones
Not infrequently, popular and even some scholarly accounts have offered a simplistic rendering of the political, social, and intellectual resurgence in Indian country after World War II, often encapsulating and equating it with the American Indian Movement and its telegenic leadership. In his new biography of Clyde Warrior, Paul R. McKenzie-Jones has offered a much-needed and welcome corrective.
Written in a readable style, this well-researched and well-rounded monograph tells the life story of a neglected political leader, while also offering a culturally relevant account of the broader movement for American Indian self-determination, its intellectual roots, and the context that animated it. In his short life, Warrior, a dynamic thinker, eloquent speaker, and charismatic leader, laid the foundation for and helped coin the phrase “Red Power.” He cofounded the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC), played a key role in indigenous activism in the 1960s, and spearheaded efforts to foster self-determination, reclaim treaty rights, and promote culturally grounded education. Sadly, he died from liver disease at the age of twenty-eight, yet he left a lasting imprint on indigenous politics.
McKenzie-Jones is not content to simply narrate a series of events. He also nicely highlights the experiences and traces the influences that shaped Warrior and his impact. First, McKenzie-Jones emphasizes the importance of Ponca culture, history, and identity, providing readers with a succinct introduction. Noting that Warrior was raised in accordance with traditional ways on the Ponca reservation and that he always foregrounded his tribal heritage and identity throughout his political career, McKenzie-Jones argues that this traditionalism made Warrior distinct. Second, McKenzie-Jones underscores the diverse encounters and exchanges of Warrior’s youth. On the one hand, the author points to the ways that the intercultural spaces of Indian hobbyists and mainstream education informed Warrior’s world-view. On the other hand, McKenzie-Jones directs attention to the centrality of intertribalism in Warrior’s youth, especially the interface with other tribal communities and traditions, perhaps best exemplified by his rise to excellence on the powwow circuit. Third, McKenzie-Jones explores the formative significance of formal and informal interactions with other American Indians in the workshops, the organizations (notably the Southwest Regional Indian Youth Council, the forerunner of NIYC), and the political actions associated with the nascent movement. This unique nexus of influences proved pivotal to Warrior, according to McKenzie-Jones, and it laid the foundation for a Red Power movement that emerged well before the American Indian Movement and was also quite ideologically and politically distinct from other freedom struggles at the time, including the civil rights movement and Black Power.
In this account, McKenzie-Jones has carefully reconstructed a life and made sense of a time. In the process, he not only recovers an important historical figure too long forgotten but also offers a fuller understanding of a political [End Page 724] movement, its unique origins, and its living legacy. That he did both with such respect and relevance ensures that the book will make a lasting contribution.