Sample Literature Review On Blood Struggle: The Rise Of Modern Indian Nations By Chares Wilkinson: Book Review
In his long-awaited monograph Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations, Charles Wilkinson, a distinguished professor of public land law and Indian law at the University of Colorado law school, examines the nadir of the sovereign status of Native American tribes during the 1950s and the specter of their demise. The modern era of Native American tribal government commenced in 1959 with the seminal court case decision Williams v. Lee, which imbued meaning to tribal treaties that had been implemented decades prior in the effort to defend tribal sovereignty. Despite this counter-narrative’s focus, it is unequivocal that Wilkinson did not want to narrate the negative dimensions of native dispossession and passive, infantilizing victimization. He commences this monograph with the theme of sovereignty termination to illuminate how Native Americans exercised agency in order to survive in the face of draconian, obdurate, and arbitrary federal policies. Wilkinson shares a wealth of knowledge and insight into the machinations of modern Indian nations and how they germinated out of the remnants of their tribal sovereignty and transformation into domestic-dependent nations. Wilkinson underscores critical achievements that took place in Indian Country, but he spends the majority of this work on the grassroots efforts of college-educated natives whom are credited for the successes yielded by the movements. The formation of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and the Menominee Restoration were all critical facts of this modern-day movement towards the reclamation of tribal autonomy and self-determination. Wilkinson succinctly contends that the modern-day Indian movement showcased the United States commitment to assisting indigenous peoples—who were economically and politically dispossessed—an opportunity to subsist and survive along with the ardent efforts taken by grassroots movements and organization determined to act on the fundamental impulse to survive. As such, Wilkinson’s argument eschews traditional narratives regarding the lack of political and economic agency by showing how, despite their dispossessed and subaltern status, made meaningful contributions that undergirded the development of modern Indian nations. Through this cogent monograph, Wilkinson surveys critical flashpoints and event spanning from the 1950s into the present day, underscoring the actions and perspectives of the indigenous peoples and issues related to indigenous sovereignty. Although structural and endemic problems persist amongst the indigenous populations, Wilkinson promulgates that they have a history of adapting despite the brutality and violence waged against them throughout U.S. history.
In 1831, Chief Justice Marshall declared that indigenous nations were “domestic-dependent” nations, a phrase that he had coined during a speech in 1831. Such lexicon suggests that the U.S. government recognized the de facto treatment of native nations as equally powerful, sovereign nations v. natives being similar to his guardian. As such, paternalism is unequivocally built into the definition of domestic-dependent nation itself and thus retains racial connotations and racial logic. Natives rely on kindness and power and address president as their great father because they are considered as so completely under the sovereignty and dominion of the U.S. that forging a political connection with them would be an act of hostility. The tone of Justice Marshall’s decree marginalizes the indigenous and Native Americans as an alien Other that needed the protection of the benevolent U.S. government. Such racial logic constructs natives as infantile and in a state of pupilage. The United States is teaching civilization, modernization, and industrialism and who to belong in the modern world. Such racial logic socially constructs natives as outside the realm of modernity and out of the realm of self-sustaining. This constant state of pupilage amounts to the great white father teaching these populations how to become part of a modern industrialized world. Thus, it is clear that since the nineteenth century, natives enjoyed only nominal sovereignty despite the fact that they are their own domestic nation yet are so completely under the dominion and sovereignty of the U.S. that others cannot align with them. An internally colonized population thus becomes legally constructed and serves as an impetus for grassroots civil rights movements to germinate and take action a century thereafter.
Wilkinson is at his finest in chapter four “The Making of a Movement” when he discusses the founding of the NCAI in 1944, which he points to as seminal moment in the germination of Indigenous Nations across the country. Although relatively terse, this chapter nonetheless underscores the historical significance of this political entity, noting that prior to the 1940s, Native Americans experienced a series of failures in their attempts to organize a grassroots movement at the national level. The Teepee Order of America and the Society of the American Indian were all organizations that proved inadequate and unproductive, which is why the both the state and national government ignored their grievances regarding Indian policy. The problem with the Association of American Indian Affairs during the 1940s was that its membership was ironically predominately white, which rendered it exclusive by nature. Indeed, the Friends of the American Indian, an organization created in the nineteenth century, was comprised solely of white members.
While Wilkinson largely ignores and fails to trace how Native American identity shifted over time, especially during the tumultuous 1960s, the reader must remain cognizant that the majority of the indigenous peoples who lived during the 1940s did not root their identity in American culture but rather with their specific tribe as opposed to inter-tribal identities. The heterogeneity of indigenous peoples rendered it difficult to forge a monolithic or shared goal during the NCAI’s nascent years. Tribal members lamented that the grassroots organization was both too formal/professions as well as “too Oklahoma.” Once World War II ended, droves of veterans returned—many of whom worked as so-called code-talkers who were pivotal in the Allied Power’s victory—and wanted to become a part of the indigenous cause, thereby forcing the NCAI to push for indigenous suffrage in New Mexico despite the fact that it was struggling and did not advocate for or represent a large percentage of the indigenous tribes living in the United States. Native Americans effectively collaborated during the 1940s and 1950s in order to propagate their agenda of achieving tribal autonomy and social justice at the micro and macro levels. Wilkinson laments that these earlier organizing efforts are largely elided from the counter-narrative because scholars tend to focus on the more radicalized and publicized movements that took place during the 1960s and 1970s.
Among the most vocal and eccentric tribal leaders of the 1960s and 1970s movements was Ada Deer, an effervescent woman who played a critical role in restoring the Menominee after the federal government terminated the sovereignty of the Menominee in 1961. Former members of the tribe became the shareholders of the Menominee Enterprises, Inc. As Wilkinson opines, “a voting trust, not individual Menominee, held and voted the corporation’s shares.” Out of the seven members of the voting trust, only four of the members were Menominee despite the fact that the Menominee should be able to wholly regulate the affairs that took place within their tribe. To be able to do so requires that the voting committee be comprised one hundred percent of tribal members. Unfortunately, the First Wisconsin Trust Company of Milwaukee usurped over eighty percent of the votes that were cast, thereby alienating the Menominee and forcing them into a hopeless and unfortunate situation. The Menominee were taxed as if they did not live on a reservation in Wisconsin County, which exacerbated their poverty and despair because they also witnessed tribal schools and hospitals forced to close. The Determination of Rights and Unity of Menominee Shareholders (DRUMS) was founded in 1970 as an organization comprised of shareholders as well as a grassroots community advocacy group. Jim White and Ada Deer emerged as the primary leaders of DRUMS, which protested and disrupted land development projects that were viewed as environmentally toxic and marched in protest to the state capital in Wisconsin. The sovereignty of the Menominee was restored in 1973 even though the Department of the Interior exerted great efforts to stall the inevitable. Deer remained an active member in the grassroots movements for indigenous rights while also serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) during the 1990s when President Bill Clinton was in the White House.
Wilkinson’s monograph traces the rise of modern Native American nations and the leaders that spawned a paradigm shift in the history of the indigenous in the United States. While the author acknowledges the several leaders such as Russell Means and Clyde Bellecourt, he underscores the significant contributions made by both intellectuals and tribal officials alike, asserting: “The modern tribal sovereignty movement has had no single great inspirational leader, no Martin Luther King, Jr.yet if one person may be singled out, it is Vine Deloria, Jr.” Wilkinson depicts the American Indian Movement’s (AIM) so-called Trail of Broken Treaties movement and March to the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. and the occupation of Alcatraz Island as chaotic and disorganized. As such, he articulates an argument regarding tribal leadership during this time period as opposed to urban grassroots activism. As a result, Wilkinson limns Indian Country as, despite cultural idiosyncrasies, remained united and monolithic regarding the precepts of autonomy, self-determination, self-governance, and the maintenance of treaty rights. Vine Deloria Jr. and Hank Adams articulated an intellectual paradigm and blue print for community organizing leaders with a rally cry that united a handful of native tribes under the call for self-determination.
According to Wilkinson, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) that was passed in 1971 marked a herculean step toward the legal recognition by the federal government of the sovereignty of narrative tribes and rights to their ancestral lands. Alaska had officially became a state in 1959, which rendered over ninety percent of Alaskan land “public domain,” open and vacant for state-sponsored land development projects such as homesteading and mineral leases. Native Americans living there angered and disenchanted many tribal leaders because such anthropogenic activities directly infringed upon their fishing and hunting rights, which were the principle staples in the indigenous diet. As a result, the Alaskan Federation of Natives (AFN) was created in 1966 in order to resist the encroachment of the government on native lands. Indeed, leaders of this group triumphed land claims at the state level by filing grievances with the Department of the Interior. Towards the end of the tumultuous 1960s Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, froze Alaskan territory and prohibited any individual or group of individuals from filing claims for land transfer at the national level. Such a move was considered to be quite bold because of the specter of Alaska as a nutrient rich environment that had untapped oil reserves in the northern regions. Political lobbyists unsurprisingly fervently negotiated with the federal government. Ultimately, President Richard Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) on December 19, 1971, which was a landmark piece of legislation that secured forty million acres and over a billion dollars to protect the vested interests of the indigenous. The natives residing in Alaska, in a similar way evident in the Menominee case study, became shareholders of the tribal bureaus. Despite its various drawbacks, it is nonetheless evident that the AFN was able to secure twelve percent of their ancestral lands vis-à-vis legal avenues.
Wilkinson unequivocally stresses that the collaboration of Native Americans during the twentieth century vis-à-vis organizations such as DRUMS, NCAI, and AFN facilitated efforts to not only steadfastly remained committed to the procurement of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. Indeed, Native American leaders carved out a niche in which they had a degree of political and economic agency. Although the length of this monograph can be quite distracting for the readers due to the litany of digressions, this broad-sweeping examination of the legal history of natives nonetheless is valuable contribution to the corpus of literature and historiography on Native Americans in modern America. Compelling, meticulously detailed, and accessible, Blood Struggle deftly covers the modern tribal sovereignty movement that largely ignores the role of gambling and Indian gaming despite its centrality. Moreover, Wilkinson sanitizes much of the narrative by avoiding any meaningful discussion on social problems and brutal realities that persists in Indian Country in the present day. This work would interest any person interested in the history of indigineity, Red Power movement, and modern American history. The notion that the modern Indian movement was revitalized is convincingly argued and an important corrective to the master narrative.
"Cherokee Nation v. State of Georgia." Cherokee Nation. Accessed April 21, 2015. http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/TrailofTears/CherokeeNationvStateofGeorgia.aspx
Lipsitz, George.”The Racialization of Space and the Spatialization of Race: Theorizing the Hidden Architecture of Landscape.” Landscape Journal 26.1(2007): 10-23.
Wilkinson, Charles F. Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations. New York: Norton, 2005.
Wilkinson, Charles F. American Indians, Time and the Law: Native Societies in a Modern Constitutional Democracy. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1987.