IN A BARREN LAND: American Indian Dispossession and Survival by Paula Mitchell Marks

IN A BARREN LAND: American Indian Dispossession and Survival

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A detail-packed survey of the manifold conquest of North America. In that conquest, writes historian Marks (And Die in the West, 1989), laws and whiskey figured as prominently as did firearms. Beginning her overview with the Plymouth Bay colony and ending in modern times, Marks considers the longstanding patterns of dependence and subservience established as a matter of policy by the European powers and their American successors. In the presence of these powers, Native American nations compromised and bargained in the hope of maintaining their lands, making major cultural adaptations that often reached the point of cultural suicide. Marks doesn't arrive at any startling conclusions in her pages, and she breaks no new ground; the account relies, strangely for so sweeping a survey, on a relatively small number of sources. Yet she weaves together her narrative skillfully, emphasizing several themes without belaboring the usual guilty-conqueror-vs.-noble-victim trope. She shows, for instance, that in many cases the Indian nations were bargained straight into untenable situations--in the case of the Sioux, for instance, trading hunting rights for federal rations that arrived only irregularly, which led to thousands of deaths by starvation--and that these desperate situations often led the Indians to an unwanted alternative, namely armed resistance. Marks traces the course of Native American dispossession from outright conquest and theft to federal programs that, intentionally or not, destroyed what little sovereignty most Indian nations may have enjoyed; she offers a variety of case studies to press her argument, and they do not make for cheering reading. Students of Indian policy will find this a useful reference.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1998
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Morrow