Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Road to a New Era of American Indian Autonomy

The Road to a New Era of American Indian Autonomy. This article is by Ned Blackhawk. It is at History Now, a newer history site I recently discovered. The article looks at federal government-Indian relations in the United States. There is also a companion page titled Suggested American West Sources with a bibliography and a list of annotated related websites.

From the site:

Sovereignty and nationhood are not terms generally applied to American minorities. Yet, unlike any other American ethnic group, American Indians maintain unique political relationships with the federal government. Tribal enrollments, courts, police forces, constitutional governments, departments of natural resources, and school systems are but a few of the federally and tribally enacted institutions within reservations. Thus understanding the relationship between the federal government and reservation communities helps explain recent Indian history. That relationship is defined by ambivalence and violence, yet it is also shaped by the ability of Indians, like other dispossessed and disenfranchised groups in America, to use the legal system for redress of grievances. Much like the African American civil rights movement, the modern American Indian sovereignty movement is grounded in constitutional law. The same legal currents that have made it illegal to deny political rights on the basis of race, gender, or creed have also maintained that America’s indigenous populations have a unique relationship with the national, or federal government.

The relationship grew slowly but steadily in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sectional and constitutional crises of the early Republic and the first half of the nineteenth century have often overshadowed the place of Native Americans within the nation’s past. Yet policies enacted to deal with eastern Indians during this period help explain the context in which modern Indians operate- and add to our understanding of the larger history of these eras. For example, scholars have recently explored the curious place of Indians in the pageantry and rhetoric of the Revolutionary era generation. They have found that, both during and after the imperial struggle, revolutionary leaders and followers showed ambivalence toward Indian culture, adopting various forms of Indian masquerade and affinities yet exhibiting deep anxieties regarding the Indian presence. And, throughout backcountry settlements, fears of Indian attack helped unite varying European ethnic groups as “Indian haters.” The colonial threat operated in the same fashion to unite disparate Indian communities.

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