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This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made
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This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made

by Frederick Hoxie

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Frederick E. Hoxie, one of our most prominent and celebrated academic historians of Native American history, has for years asked his undergraduate students at the beginning of each semester to write down the names of three American Indians. Almost without exception, year after year, the names are Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The general conclusion is


Frederick E. Hoxie, one of our most prominent and celebrated academic historians of Native American history, has for years asked his undergraduate students at the beginning of each semester to write down the names of three American Indians. Almost without exception, year after year, the names are Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The general conclusion is inescapable: Most Americans instinctively view Indians as people of the past who occupy a position outside the central narrative of American history. These three individuals were warriors, men who fought violently against American expansion, lost, and died. It’s taken as given that Native history has no particular relationship to what is conventionally presented as the story of America. Indians had a history too; but theirs was short and sad, and it ended a long time ago. 

In This Indian Country, Hoxie has created a bold and sweeping counter-narrative to our conventional understanding. Native American history, he argues, is also a story of political activism, its victories hard-won in courts and campaigns rather than on the battlefield. For more than two hundred years, Indian activists—some famous, many unknown beyond their own communities—have sought to bridge the distance between indigenous cultures and the republican democracy of the United States through legal and political debate. Over time their struggle defined a new language of “Indian rights” and created a vision of American Indian identity. In the process, they entered a dialogue with other activist movements, from African American civil rights to women’s rights and other progressive organizations.

Hoxie weaves a powerful narrative that connects the individual to the tribe, the tribe to the nation, and the nation to broader historical processes. He asks readers to think deeply about how a country based on the values of liberty and equality managed to adapt to the complex cultural and political demands of people who refused to be overrun or ignored. As we grapple with contemporary challenges to national institutions, from inside and outside our borders, and as we reflect on the array of shifting national and cultural identities across the globe, This Indian Country provides a context and a language for understanding our present dilemmas.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From the early 19th through the late 20th century, U.S. policy toward Native Americans unfolded in three stages: wars and often violent removal from the east to the west; concentration in reservations and the attempt to “civilize” “an inferior and dependent race”; and the granting of only limited tribal self-governance. University of Illinois historian Hoxie (Talking Back to Civilization) profiles eight Native American lawyers, lobbyists, writers, and politicians who “chose to oppose the oppressions of the United States with words and ideas rather than violence.” Mid-19th-century leader William Potter Ross, the son of a Scottish father and Cherokee mother, was a Princeton graduate who negotiated with the Union Pacific Railroad over its claims to tribal lands, and insisted on tribal legal autonomy. The writings of late-19th-century Paiute polemicist Sarah Winnemucca sharply challenged the paternalistic policies of “the Indian office and its ideology of progress.” Hoxie’s best chapter is on the Sioux lawyer and writer Vine Deloria Jr., who wrote that Native Americans should see themselves as “American Indians” not as assimilated “Indian Americans” and argued that U.S. policies should forward Indian self-governance. This is an important, well-written, and thoroughly documented work about Native American leaders, who, while lesser known, are no less important. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
A noted student of American Indian life profiles activists who sought to lead their people from subjugation to citizenship. Take Sarah Winnemucca, for instance, a 19th-century Paiute teacher and writer who argued that the only way to end the suffering of Native peoples was to give them "a permanent home on [the Indians'] own native soil," which would make of "the savage (as he is called today)…a thrifty and law-abiding member of the community." Her protests against official corruption and indifference earned her notoriety among sympathetic whites, mostly on the East Coast, but she was attacked as a radical if not a puppet of the military, which was conspiring to wrest control of the Indian agency away from civilian authority. Hoxie's (History and Law/Univ. of Illinois; Talking Back To Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era, 2001, etc.) narrative opens in the closing years of the Revolution, when Choctaw leader James McDonald, "the first Indian in the United States to be trained as a lawyer," foresaw trouble for his people with the collapse of British rule; it closes with another lawyer, Vine Deloria, who made a careful distinction between American Indians and Indian Americans and argued against the social Darwinism hidden within social science: "By expecting that real Indians should conform to a specific list of backward traits and live as ‘folk people,' anthropologists, and their missionary colleagues, convinced themselves that helping Indians required changing or even eradicating their cultures." In between, Hoxie considers the work of the Salish scholar D'Arcy McNickle, the carefully litigious Mille Lacs Ojibwe band, the Seneca activist Alice Jemison and other activists who, working with, yes, anthropologists and missionaries and particularly lawyers, helped pave the way for a time in which " ‘they' were now ‘our' neighbors, employers, customers, and fellow citizens." A capable, engaging work of history, important for students of official relations between the U.S. government and the Native peoples under its rule.

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Penguin Publishing Group
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Penguin History of American Life Series
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What People are Saying About This

Ned Blackhawk

This Indian Country provides an invaluable exposition of the under-recognized political history of Native American intellectuals and activists. Judiciously framed and executed, it confirms Fred Hoxie's standing as the leading proponent and practitioner of contemporary American Indian history. (Ned Blackhawk, author of Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West)

James H. Merrell

In this remarkable book, Frederick Hoxie portrays men and women whose weapons were words and whose battlegrounds were courtrooms, Congressional hearings, newspapers, and lecture halls. With ingenuity and tenacity, these Native American activists learned to navigate the corridors of U.S. power in Washington, D.C., a wilderness surely as daunting as any on the continent. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, these Natives didn't always lose in the ongoing contest for This Indian Country. (James H. Merrell, author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Indians' New World and Into the American Woods)

Charles Wilkinson

For five centuries, European nations and the United States levied all manner of assaults on the lives, land, governments, and cultures of American Indians. Yet Indianness never died out. Frederick Hoxie has brought his rare talents to bear on why this is so. Using well-selected political activists, he shows that these sustainers all kept Indian existence alive so that modern political activists like Vine Deloria Jr. could ignite and carry out a broad-based revival in modern times. This is as good a book as we will ever have to bring deep insight into the long arc of Indian history. (Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations)

Richard White

This is a remarkable and absorbing book that shows why Indian peoples belong at the very center of American history. This Indian Country brings to life people who, unlike Crazy Horse or Tecumseh, would make terrible symbols and worse martyrs, but who made important history. These Indian lawyers, lobbyists, politicians and writers were usually flawed and sometimes failures, but they drew on American ideas, emphasizing treaties and citizenship, to defend the tribalism and local control that American Indian policy attacked. Without them Indian country and the republic itself would be far different places. (Richard White, author of Railroaded and The Middle Ground)

From the Publisher
"A powerful, undeniable chronicle of civilized resistance... This Indian Country inarguably opens our eyes."
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Philip J. Deloria

A master historian at his very best, Frederick Hoxie deftly turns a series of evocative biographies into a compelling new synthesis of American Indian political resistance. In doing so, This Indian Country redefines the terrain of Native American historical memory, even as it centers Indian people in the full sweep of the history of the United States. (Philip J. Deloria, author of Playing Indian and Indians in Unexpected Places)

Meet the Author

Frederick E. Hoxie is the Swanlund Professor of History and a professor of law at the University of Illinois, where he specializes in Native American history. He is the author of several books, most recently Talking Back to Civilization. He served as the general editor of The American Indians, a twenty-three-volume series that has sold more than two million copies, and as the series editor (with Neal Salisbury) for Cambridge Studies in American Indian History. Professor Hoxie is a founding trustee of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and a former president of the American Society for Ethnohistory. He received his undergraduate degree from Amherst College and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

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