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Reviewed by:
  • American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country, 1850 to the Present
  • Dolores E. Janiewski
American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country, 1850 to the Present. Edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, Peter C. Mancall, and James H. Merrell. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Intended primarily as a textbook to educate university students in the United States about the shared history of American Indians and Anglo-Americans, American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country, l850 to the Present has largely been cast within a national rather than imperial context. Seeking to rescue American Indian history from the flawed paradigms of righteous conquest and victimization, the editors have selected authors whose research emphasizes Indian abilities to negotiate, resist, accommodate, and survive as Indian nations within the United States. As against the epic story of manifest destiny, this collection of contemporary scholarship focuses its attention on historical episodes occurring within the history of the United States. Editorial intentions to mount a challenge to conventional U.S. historiography thus mitigate against situating the experiences of diverse Indian nations within a comparative context that would extensively explore the ways the origins of the United States as a settler nation conceived within an imperial system would impinge on the indigenous peoples of North America.

The readers of this journal will bring to this collection extensive knowledge of colonialism and imperialism to inform their reading of these essays as specific episodes from the history of groups of native peoples confronting a nation state being constructed from a series of settler colonies strung across the North American continent. The collection contains rich empirical detail about cross-cultural encounters including case studies of warfare, criminal justice, trade, music, dances, shamanism, and witchcraft that could be usefully compared to similar episodes in other settler colony histories. A great deal of insightful attention has been paid to institutions, policies, and programs intended to civilize or assimilate American Indians to the economic, social, cultural, legal, and political norms of the settler majority. Less sophisticated readers, however, will need considerable guidance to recognise the importance of brief discussions in editorial notes and essays that explicitly regard the United States as engaged in its own version of an imperial mission. Those who adopt American Nations to teach about imperialism or colonialism will need to develop the insights that are sometimes only briefly alluded to in the discussions by scholars interested in concrete historical episodes.

For scholars and teachers interested in colonialism as a historical process, the sections on reservation cultures, gender, and cultural change offer the most developed and theoretically informed contributions. Melissa L. Meyer explored the making of ethnic identities as “full bloods” or “mixed bloods” as a part of the process of incorporation of the White Earth Anishinaabeg into the world economic system. Adopting a Foucault-influenced interpretation, Thomas Biolsi discussed the regulation and subjection of the Lakota whose would be required to “conform to a certain minimum definition of modern individuality” to fit into the American nation-state and the market economy which engulfed their homeland despite their valiant military resistance (Biolsi, 113). Essays by Lisa Emmerich, Carol Devens, and Margaret Jacobs examined the interaction between government officials, missionaries, reformers in attempting to reconstruct gender, cultural practices, and sexuality in accordance with assimilationist logic intended to make Indians disappear into the nation state. Taken together these contributions illuminate the symbolic importance of indigenous peoples to the members of settler cultures considered both as needing to be remade in their own likeness to qualify for citizenship and as symbols of authentic cultural patterns which they should honor as essential to their own unique national identity.

Notably sensitive to the tendency among United States history textbooks to make Indians disappear in the l890s, the editors of American Nations have devoted an impressive share of its pages to the twentieth century. One section on the twentieth-century history focused on religious innovations and adaptations. Another section examined cultural and political transformations using the concept of “borderlands” in the case of Frederick Hoxie’s contribution as a metaphor for cross-cultural encounters and the forging of hybrid identities. John C. Savagian explored the Indian appropriation of Anglo-American cultural and political institutions to develop both a pan-Indian...

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