Kirkus Star


A Native History of Early America


An excellent, ambitious attempt to restore to history long-overlooked Indians who “neither uncompromisingly resisted . . . nor wholeheartedly assimilated” in the face of white encroachment.

Much work on American Indian history has concentrated on the Great Plains and Far West, but a growing movement among (mostly junior) historians focuses attention on the Eastern woodland peoples who lived more or less at peace with the European newcomers during the period of colonial rule, treated by the overseas authorities as members of sovereign nations. Only with the attainment of American independence, writes Richter (Director, McNeil Center for Early American Studies/Univ. of Pennsylvania), did these scattered peoples find themselves considered part of a monolithic whole (“despite ancient rivalries among nations and speakers of different languages, they were all Indians”), a whole that, thought by definition to be the enemy, had to be subdued. Most of them, descendants of larger groups that had been fragmented by disease and other forces before and immediately after the arrival of the whites, had tried to “incorporate European objects and ideas into Indian country on Indian terms.” Thus their cultures, altered by the introduction of alien modes of exchange and materials (like iron, which spurred what Richter memorably calls America’s “first arms race,” and pigs, which wreaked havoc on forest ecosystems and starved out the game Indians depended on), would have been unrecognizable to their ancestors in many ways, and nowhere more so than in New England, where Anglo participants in King Philip’s War who dressed and behaved like Indians battled Indians who dressed and behaved like whites. None of this mattered to the expansionist-minded American government, which abjured the “mutual benefits of trade, peace, and stability” of Crown policy and declared war on Native America militarily, socially, and culturally, making Indian-hating a tenet of national policy—and setting in motion tragic events that haunt us even now.

A hallmark in recent Native American historiography that merits wide attention.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-674-00638-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2001