Cobb, Daniel M. & Loretta Fowler (eds.)
2007 Beyond Red Power: American Indian Politics and Activism since 1900. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research.
Notes: xx, 347 p.: ill., maps; 23 cm. ISBN: 9781930618862
Reviewed 31 Jan 2008 by:
Adam M. Pacton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee, USA
Medium: Written Literature Subject
Indians of North America - Politics and government
Indians of North America - Civil rights
Indian activists - United States
Political participation - United States
Social movements - United States
Self-determination, National - United States
United States - Social policy
United States - Race relations
United States - Politics and government
ABSTRACT: The history of twentieth century American Indian activism, traditionally associated in the American consciousness with the Red Power era, is recontextualized and revised in this collection of sixteen essays.
The era of Red Power, the period of increased American Indian militancy during the 1970s, often serves as the primary signifier of twentieth century American Indian activism. In Beyond Red Power, editors Daniel M. Cobb and Loretta Fowler seek to contextualize this explosive time within a broader, more variegated, narrative of indigenous activism. This collection brings together sixteen essays from historians, anthropologists, legal scholars, specialists in American Indian studies, and individuals outside of the academy. The unifying question that these essays address is "how did Indians ensure the survival of their communities through the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries?" The book is divided into three sections: "Contexts", "Continuing Encounters: Historical Perspectives", and "Sovereignty in Action: Contemporary Perspectives".
As the name of the section suggests, "Contexts" includes a number of essays that situate twentieth-century American Indian activism within a broader historical and legal context. These essays also provide a background for later essays in the volume. Frederick E. Hoxie, in "Missing the Point: Academic Experts and American Indian Politics", describes a tendency in twentieth-century scholarship to portray Indians’ role in history as merely reactionary. Hoxie argues that one of the goals of Beyond Red Power is to offer a picture of Indian history that confutes the prevailing picture of the reactionary American Indian, a history that more accurately describes a vibrant, even if popularly unnoticed, tradition of activism. The essays in the second section of the volume demonstrate why American Indian activism has often erroneously been thought of as merely reactionary: indigenous activism subtly makes use of the power structures of the colonial apparatus to further its own ends.
The essays in "Continuing Encounters: Historical Perspectives" show how American Indian activism often makes use of the social climate, laws, and rhetoric of the larger colonial society to gain political capital. Sherry L. Smith’s essay, "Indians, the Counterculture, and the New Left", describes how some American Indians sought partnerships with civil rights and antiwar movements as a means of bringing American Indian sovereignty struggles into more public arenas of discourse. She also discusses how this sort of alignment sometimes hindered Native activism; specifically, she describes how the involvement of non-Native public personalities both helped and hindered fish-in protests in the 60s. Daniel M. Cobb, in "Talking the Language of the Larger World: Politics in Cold War (Native) America", describes how activists used the rhetoric of the Cold War to further the interests of American Indians. The same rhetoric, unfortunately, also provided tools for the opponents of Native self determination: talk of sovereign nations within the boundaries of the United States could inspire fear of communist subversion. Issues of sovereignty are explored in-depth in the third section of the book: "Sovereignty in Action: Contemporary Perspectives".
While the third section of the book ostensibly deals with issues of sovereignty, it is more accurate to say that it explores American Indian identity, with sovereignty operating as an index of identity. Before determining the sovereign status of a group of American Indians, the delimiting characteristics of that group must be agreed upon. As Circe Sturm points out, in "States of Sovereignty: Race Shifting, Recognition, and Rights in Cherokee Country", this is not an easy task. Sturm notes that "in federal legislation alone, thirty-three definitions of ‘American Indian’ are in use, including those based on blood quantum, tribal citizenship, residency, self-identification, or any combination of the above—any of these may or may not correspond to the standards and definitions used by tribal governments" (229). Sturm shows that the matter is further complicated by an increase of state-recognized tribes. This practice raises a number of difficult questions, notably, who is 'authentically Indian' and who decides? Daryl Baldwin and Julie Olds, in "Miami Indian Language and Cultural Research at Miami University", explore this question in terms of linguistic and cultural indicators. Baldwin and Olds’s essay describes the Myaamia Project: a collaborative project between the Miami Nation of Oklahoma and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio which aims at the linguistic and cultural reclamation of the Miami people. In addition to addressing fluid conceptions of identity in American Indian activism, Beyond Red Power further contextualizes the volatility of the Red Power era by uncovering a history of jurisprudential occlusion.
Beyond Red Power includes a number of essays that make the militant actions of the Red Power era seem more reasonable. John Troutman’s essay "The Citizenship of Dance: Politics of Music among the Lakota, 1900-1924" argues that conventional means of protest have often been unavailable to American Indians. Troutman contends that it was nearly impossible for reservation-based Indians to publically protest policies such as allotment or assimilation: "the Indian Affairs office controlled the resources necessary for subsistence, and local agents could and frequently did retaliate by withholding rations for such ‘trouble’" (92). Even as public forms of protest become more readily, or safely, available, American Indians continue to face culture-specific impediments to just treatment in the legal and political realms. Helen Hornbeck Tanner, in "In the Arena: An Expert Witness View of the Indian Claims Commission", describes a number of practices and prejudices that prevented American Indians from appearing in court or serving as expert witnesses on tribal histories. Larry Nesper, in "Tribal Courts and Tribal States in the Era of Self-Determination: An Ojibwe Case Study", explores the tensions that arise in tribal courts when cultural practices and Anglo-American conceptions of law clash. Facing a legal system that robbed them of a voice, and sometimes literally starved them into silence, it is unsurprising that American Indians took part in events such as the 1969 seizing of Alcatraz, the 1972 march on Washington ("The Trail of Broken Treaties"), and the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That these events did not happen without provocation, or in isolation, is made pointedly clear by the end of Beyond Red Power.
While Beyond Red Power succeeds in contextualizing the Red Power era, it appears to suffer at the organizational level. The placement of some of the essays within a given section of the book sometimes seems arbitrary. There are also overlaps or parallels between essays in different sections. Rather than expressing a weakness in the book, however, these overlaps and parallels may be understood as reflecting truths about American Indian activism: it is not neat, linear, or easily categorized. Its history is a history of misrepresentation and oversimplification. One of the supplementary features of the book that adds clarity to the history of American Indian activism is the inclusion of tables that list federal policies towards American Indians, the year of each policy’s implementation, and the political activism that occurred at the time of the policy’s creation. These tables cover the relevant policies from 1871 ("The Assimilation and Allotment Era") to 2006 ("The Self-Determination Era"). Lastly, the volume comes with an extensive and helpful index.
Beyond Red Power provides an excellent introduction to the circumstances leading up to, surrounding, and following the Red Power era. Insofar as the essays cover a wide range of topics, the book is perhaps not suitable as a primary text. The essays in the book, however, are valuable at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and appropriate for students of history, anthropology, law, and cultural studies. For academics and non-academics alike, the lucid prose and engaging style of the authors makes Beyond Red Power a pleasure to read.