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  • Reservation Politics: Historical Trauma, Economic Development, and Intratribal Conflict by Raymond I. Orr
  • Baligh Ben Taleb
Raymond I. Orr. Reservation Politics: Historical Trauma, Economic Development, and Intratribal Conflict. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017. xiii + 239 pp. Cloth, $34.95.

Social research on American Indian internal politics has often been labeled sensitive and uncomfortable, and it tends to deter scholarly work. To Raymond I. Orr, from the University of Oklahoma, intratribal politics forms the core of decision-making processes inside and outside American Indian communities or Indian Country and should not be concealed from open debate. In Reservation Politics, he calls on social scientists and scholars to appraise the origins of intratribal politics and what informs their contemporary and future decisions. He explains that these decisions or motivational behaviors are not random; instead, they are informed by key variables, most notably, the tribes' "worldview" (7). Such worldview emerges from the tribes' historical experience (ethnohistory) and the meanings derived from it. At its center, Orr points out, are internal factions with three different worldviews or logics: (1) communal affect, which values community harmony and social cohesion above individual material preferences; (2) self-interest, which elevates individual material interests and profits higher than those of community [End Page 368] harmony; and (3) melancholia, which places past traumatic events at the core of contemporary and future politics of the tribe. Orr places these three logics into contact with each other and "identif[ies] the link between historical processes and intratribal politics" (57).

Using a wide range of interviews and major theories in social sciences, Orr provides an ethnographic analysis of intratribal politics in three federally recognized tribes: the Citizen Potawatomis in Oklahoma; the Isleta Pueblos in New Mexico; and the Rosebud Sioux in South Dakota. Orr selected these specific cases because of his access to their tribal politics and the way they fit into his comparative methods and theoretical preferences. In each of these cases, though he does not claim to establish a particular theory, Orr hopes to capture a key segment of and inference to American Indian community life (47). To this end, he deploys a broad chronological organization to explain the origins of each tribe's worldview and its effects on contemporary reservation politics and future decision-making processes.

The book is divided into six chapters. Chapter 1, the introduction, grounds contemporary conflict in American Indian tribal politics within a deep intellectual understanding of political theory, political economy, historical exploitation, and social change. This includes Nietzschean and Freudian frameworks, intergenerational trauma theory, and recent discoveries in neuroscience. The author explains from a political perspective why exploring intratribal politics is critically important: "Why [might] one community … accept an offer of redress or reconciliation, another reject an offer, and another be completely un-inclined to barter over an issue?" (9). Chapter 2 examines the politics around (un)writing on intraethnic or intratribal politics in the past and how it fell under the dynamics of "common secrets." Building upon Freudian psychoanalytic theory of "recognized and unrecognized conscious knowledge" and Sartrean juxtaposition of "thetic" (known) and "nonthetic" (unknown) knowledge, Orr "suggests that conversations about tribal politics, which have existed in a near black market, be more freely discussed" (36–38).

Chapter 3 explains two salient "causal mechanisms" that inform intratribal politics and motivational behaviors. The first centers on the presence of wealth or economic growth inside tribal communities, which leads to what Orr calls the rise of self-interest or a self-interested worldview (49). The second mechanism delves into the tribes' ethnohistory of trauma, loss, and violence, which leads to what he describes as [End Page 369] the rise of melancholia or a melancholic worldview. Chapter 4 offers a compelling example of two tribal factions inside the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma: the Barrett-led Potawatomis, who represent a "utilitarian" and "self-interested" worldview; and the Sacred Heart Citizen Potawatomis, who are more "communal" and "traditionalist." Orr reports that each faction uses different tactics—websites and media, among others—to promote its worldview and vilify each other.

Chapter 5 explores the logic that brought behavioral unity and relative homogeneity to the Isleta Pueblos. Unlike other tribes, the absence of significant sources of...