My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book reoriented my thinking about what I thought I knew, revealed an international aspect I had not known, and made me more hopeful for the future than I have been in quite a while.
This book belongs to the genre represented by Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History, histories written not from the perspective of the dominant. So, as one mostly aware of traditional tellings of Anglo-Indian relations, I was exposed to a Native telling and interpretation of Indian wars and treaties and land grabs. In this version, killing off the buffalo is about more than greed; it is about choking a people to extinction by taking away their food supply. It is about ending a land promise in a treaty that was premised on “as long as the buffalo shall roam.” Damming rivers became a way to remove arable land and force an impoverished relocation.
And stereotypes were challenged: “My ancestors were tribal historians, writers, intellectuals, and fierce Indigenous nationalists at a time when Indians weren’t supposed to be anything but drunk, stupid, or dead” (12).
I had heard the phrase “sovereign nation” earlier in a talk by a Native historian but not grasped its full meaning. It was explored in Estes’ long chapter, “Internationalism.” That history traced the ongoing process from implied national identity in treaty making (treaties are made between nations), through diminishment when US government shifted from treaty making with nations to managing individuals, and on to the UN declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples.
I am always interested in the significance of a title, and this one was particularly enigmatic. One hint appears in this statement: “There is no separation between past and present, meaning that an alternative future is also determined by our understanding of our past” (14).