- Are We Not Foreigners Here: Indigenous Nationalism in the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands by Jeffrey M. Schulze, and: Native but Foreign: Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands by Brenden W. Rensink
In recent years, scholars have been drawn to comparative histories of Indigenous peoples who traverse North American borders. Brenden Rensink fruitfully compares the Yaquis of the U.S.–Mexico borderlands to the Chippewas and Crees of the U.S.–Canada borderlands, exploring how these groups established stable, autonomous communities; how they both contested and contributed to the construction of national borders; and why their historical trajectories differed so substantially. Jeffrey Schulze asks some similar questions about the Yaquis, Tohono O’odham, and Kickapoos, but he places a greater emphasis on how these groups engaged in “nation building” to achieve “an almost staggering degree of autonomy” (7). In the process, he examines how and why Indian policies in Mexico and the United States developed the way they did and how these differences affected Indigenous peoples.
Rensink begins by establishing that Crees, Chippewas, and Yaquis historically lived, hunted, and traded on both sides of what would become international borders. Colonial Europeans had welcomed Cree and Chippewa participation in the fur trade, but in the nineteenth century, Canada “sought to restrict Native mobility and control of land and resources” (21) as it became a settler-colonial state. Crees and Chippewas sometimes faced deportation, but at other times they took advantage of the emergent border to find open rangeland and game or to escape prosecution and military threats. In contrast, small numbers of Yaquis migrated from the Yaqui River Valley in what is now the Mexican state of Sonora during the Spanish colonial era to mines and Catholic missions in what would become southern Arizona and California. In the late nineteenth century, many more Yaquis moved north to escape Mexican military assaults and take up wage work in the modernizing economy.
Rensink argues that evolving labor markets and “perceived levels of . . . indigeneity” (50) played major roles in determining whether Yaquis, Crees, and Chippewas could establish stable communities. As the fur trade waned in the Canadian borderlands by the 1880s, leaving Crees and [End Page 242] Chippewas without a clear economic niche, many Americans came to view them as a nuisance. Meanwhile, in the Southwest borderlands, copper mining and commercial agriculture boomed. Yaquis’ reputation as warriors and transborder gun smugglers led some Arizonans to fear them and seek their deportation. Yet demand for their labor and fascination with the Indigenous aspects of their Catholic ceremonies eventually earned them good standing. In these sections, Rensink’s analysis might have benefitted from a more systematic exploration of race rather than, as he puts it, “evolving prejudice” (38), because significant divergences in the institutional and ideological workings of race in Mexican and U.S. Indian policy had serious implications for transborder Indigenous groups—a topic Schulze spends somewhat more time exploring.
Racial theory aside, Rensink pieces together fascinating and detailed stories about Yaqui and Chippewa-Cree community building. Yaquis became integrated into multi-ethnic communities and labor markets, to the point that “Arizonans often failed to differentiate between Spanish-speaking Mexicans, mestizos, and Mexican Indians” (49). Montanans perceived Crees to be unequivocally Indian, but also foreigners. They therefore denied them the possibility of integration through labor markets or “reservation settlement” (49). Ironically, the very factors that distinguished Crees and Chippewas in the minds of Montanans would, in 1916, help them convince the U.S. Congress that they were distinctly Indians, deserving of a reservation. By contrast, the Yaquis’ early integration into ethnically diverse communities would lead many to question their indigeneity altogether, delaying their federal recognition. Only from the 1970s through the 1990s did Yaquis—citing Chippewa-Crees as a precedent for their recognition bid—win acknowledgement as...