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Crooked Paths to Allotment: Q&A with Author C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

 In Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War, C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa complicates standard narratives of nineteenth century Native American history by uncovering the stories of individuals who contested federal Indian policy and proposed viable alternatives during a critical moment in its development. Genetin-Pilawa focuses on reformers and activists, including Tonawanda Seneca Ely S. Parker and Council Fire editor Thomas A. Bland, whose contributions to Indian policy debates have heretofore been underappreciated. Genetin-Pilawa’s interventions into the historical narrative as it has been traditionally construed have the potential to change how we see and study American Indian engagement with government processes in the nineteenth century and beyond. Here, Dr. Genetin-Pilawa discusses his research, some of the key insights he gained, and his latest work.

How did you arrive at this research project?

Originally, I imagined writing a book that focused solely on the National Indian Defense Association and its efforts in the 1880s to block the passage of forced allotment legislation. I became fascinated with Thomas and Cora Bland, the founders of the organization, and their campaign against the “Friends of the Indian,” a story that had been glossed over in the existing literature.

Author C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa.

As these things go, however, the questions I was asking encouraged me to move backwards chronologically. Where did the Blands’ radicalism come from? Were there other individuals working within federal governance that actively questioned the trajectory, pace, and goals of the policies directed at Native communities, and offered viable alternatives? If so, what could we learn from their stories? This led me to ask similar questions of Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca condoled chief and the first Indigenous commissioner of Indian Affairs, and his efforts to shape federal policy in the years surrounding the Civil War.

What inspired you to center your research on Ely Parker and Thomas Bland over other individuals?

There are several reasons why I find these individuals to be so compelling. I discussed the Blands above, but Parker’s life was so immensely interesting as well. He had many careers (interpreter for Seneca diplomats, condoled chief, engineer, military bureaucrat, policymaker, clerk). He lived and studied with other Haudenosaunee people in Ontario, worked on the Erie Canal, studied law in western New York, oversaw the building of customs houses and other federal buildings in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia, fought in the Civil War, lived in Washington DC at several different moments and then later in New York City, working for the NYPD and spending time with Jacob Riis.

Parker and Bland were also controversial figures—even their historical legacies are contested. They didn’t (and don’t) fit into our standard narratives of nineteenth-century policy reform, assimilation, dispossession, and assaults on sovereignty. But because they don’t fit, I think they force us to look at these narratives with fresh eyes and ask new questions. In much of the historical literature on the mid-to-late nineteenth century, Parker and Bland are constructed as outliers, individuals who made little impact. Yet if we look at the historical record, it’s clear that they built strong alliances and had significant support for their ideas. In both cases, their enemies clearly viewed them as threats and worked intensely to repress their reform agendas. Even though they lost more political battles than they won, studying their techniques, motivations, and struggles enriches and improves our interpretations.

How does the act of “peopling” history help disrupt the misconception that Federal Indian Policy developed in a linear trajectory?

It reminds us that policy did not develop in a vacuum and that individuals drove this process in real time, responding often to what they perceived as the most important needs either of Native communities or themselves (sometimes both). Early in the conceptualization of this project, I found myself coming back to a couple of general ideas that I had read over and over again in the secondary literature. The first was the belief that to be “pro-Indian” in the post-Civil War was to be “pro-assimilation” and “pro-allotment.” Second, that the eastern philanthropists who became known as the “Friends of the Indian” were “well-meaning, but perhaps ill-informed.”

However, in my research, I kept encountering individuals and actions that didn’t fit these models and those who did, did so in a more complicated way. For example, one could argue that at various moments Ely Parker supported assimilation and allotment, but his support for these ideas was limited to specific contexts and he ultimately argued against both. And while I think it makes sense to understand some of the “Friends” to have been well intentioned at least some of the time, there is lots of evidence to suggest that their intentions were by no means always altruistic.

The two individuals you focused on were men, but were there any Native women who were involved on the political scene – either at national or local levels?

There were absolutely Indigenous women working in Native policy reform, some of whom we might think of as prominent, as well as many more that worked behind-the-scenes, or who left fewer records for historians today. I think that Sarah Winnemucca would be a good example of a Native woman who was involved politically, both locally and more nationally in the time period I discuss (Siobhan Senier, as well as others have written convincingly of Winnemucca’s importance).

If we look at some of the earlier events I address, including the Ogden Land Company’s campaign to remove the Tonawanda Seneca from their homelands from 1838-1857, we must also take seriously the role that clan mothers played in influencing the decisions Tonawanda leaders made and the strategies they employed (recently Laurence Hauptman has issued calls to historians to pay more attention to the roles these women played).

There were other women working in Native policy reform as well, including well-known individuals like Helen Hunt Jackson and members of the Women’s National Indian Association (some of whom Cathleen Cahill references in Federal Fathers and Mothers). I tried to say as much as I could about Cora Bland, Thomas’ wife, partner, and co-editor, who played an important role in shaping both the National Indian Defense Association’s platform and the approach that Thomas Bland took in his reform campaigns. I wish I could find more about her thoughts and influence, but the historical record is scant.

You mention that both Parker and Bland introduced ideas that didn’t always have immediate success but that sometimes developed and had greater influence over time. Can you give us an example of that?

The biggest example that comes to mind is the opposition these men held toward dispossession and land allotment. Both men challenged these ideas but ultimately faced defeats in the face of a broader movement toward these policies during their lives and careers. However, based on the kinds of arguments they made in favor of supporting tribal sovereignty and maintaining tribal homelands and land bases, both of them would likely have supported John Collier and the Wheeler-Howard Act in 1934 that effectively ended the allotment era.

Another example would be Parker’s arguments in support of what today would be called a classical, liberal arts education for Native students (something he pursued as a youth in New York State) and Bland’s support of the same. In some ways, Parker’s ideas can be viewed within a larger framework of immediate post-Civil War Reconstruction politics that included important educational developments through the Freedman’s Bureau. Bland’s focus on a more well-rounded educational experience for Native students can be juxtaposed against the efforts of Herbert Welsh and the Indian Rights Association, who advocated a strictly vocational education.

Were there any signs of alliance building between figures like Parker and Bland with other individuals from marginalized groups?

This question brings to mind a few examples. Following the Civil War, Parker traveled around the South with General Grant and in doing so came into contact with communities of freed people. Although he did not work directly with them, he expressed concern about conditions in which they had been forced to live and took an interest in the development of Reconstruction policy as well. He wrote in 1866, for example, about the importance of keeping military troops in the South, for “the protection of the emancipated race.”

Thomas Bland identified with Midwestern farmers and populist agrarian activists, at one point writing a kind of “party biography” for the Peoples (Populist) Party. Among other issues, Bland advocated for banking and currency reform, as well as the break-up of monopolies. These ideas fit with his notions of a protective state, fears of uncontrolled capitalism, and support for democratic self-determination.

In your current research, you’re looking at Native American presence in nineteenth-century D.C. – could you talk a little about your preliminary findings?

I received a US Capitol Historical Society fellowship this summer to begin research in earnest on a project I’m tentatively calling “The Indians’ Capital City.” At first glance, the premise of the project seems simple: In the nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for Indigenous people to travel to and reside in Washington D.C. Of course, these kinds of stories are rarely simple. In this book, I am examining the hidden tensions between the commemorative and lived landscape that developed as Washington City increasingly became a symbol of the United States. Or to put it another way, as the capital came to be the physical manifestation of a national imaginary in the nineteenth century, the disjuncture between the iconographic/symbolic program of the capital (artwork, architecture, drama, tourist guidebooks, and newspaper reportage) and the actual experiences of Native and non-Native people in the city grew in profound ways that reflected a similar process occurring on a broader scale across the country.

As a case study of place and commemoration in the nineteenth century, Washington D.C. is an interesting choice. Place matters, a lot. D.C., though, was not a place where people came from, but where they ended up, often for short periods, sometimes longer. In the case of the commemorative landscape, the portrayals of Native violence, as well as the iconographic message of a conquest completed, came from the minds of European artists and the US policymakers who commissioned them. These portrayals were not only significant as a symbolic justification for actual federal policies but came to represent an emerging cultural mythology along the physical landscape of the national imaginary. Here, Euro-American men claimed ownership of the city (and the nation) and decorated it with images of conquest. Yet they were never successful in commanding the city (or the nation) in a way that precluded the claims of others. Commemorative expressions also hid a much more complex and interesting lived landscape in which Native people encountered and confronted non-Native individuals, urban spaces, and the symbols of settler society in Washington City.

Has anything you’ve found in that research shed light on or expanded your understanding of the development of Federal Indian policy or any of your other findings included in Crooked Paths to Allotment?

I’m still in a relatively early stage of the research, but a couple of ideas come to mind. First, and this strikes me as the more “standard” interpretation of the materials I’m studying currently, the iconographic displays—the reliefs, statues, paintings, as well as plays and guidebook language seemed to be used to justify and legitimize the kinds of policies that were being developed in the nineteenth century (I’m thinking, of course, about violent conquest, removal, dispossession, and coercive assimilation).

The more interesting story—and it is here that I think I can make an intervention into this literature—is that Native visitors and inhabitants marked the landscape in their owns ways in Washington D.C. and, in doing so, challenged the narratives of settler colonialism and carved out their own place within this evolving imperial capital. While the subject matter differs in some major way, conceptually or methodologically I think there is a certain resonance from my first book to this project.

You participated in the First Peoples manuscript workshop, with Kevin Bruyneel as your mentor. Did you learn anything about the dissertation revision process or any general writing tips that might be of use to other scholars writing their first books?

The manuscript workshop was incredibly helpful. Kevin Bruyneel and Jean Dennison (my workshop co-participant), as well as Mark Simpson-Vos (my editor at UNC Press) offered great suggestions and feedback on parts of the book. In terms of general advice, we spent a lot of time talking about finding and asserting one’s own authorial voice. The dissertation genre is not really set up to do that—one must demonstrate (to a specific audience comprised of one’s own dissertation committee) an engagement with all the requisite literature and so there’s a lot of time spent positioning oneself in the historiography.

In the case of my own dissertation, all of the historiographic positioning had been foregrounded and the unique and interesting elements of my arguments didn’t come through as much as I would’ve liked. Kevin and Jean pushed me to bring out my own voice more strongly. In addition, Kevin offered a piece of advice in constructing a useful introduction (full disclosure: the advice comes from Pagan Kennedy, through Kevin, which he acknowledged). He said that, as an author, you can do anything in your book—and readers will want to come with you—but you have to be an attentive guide. He asked Jean and me to imagine standing behind the reader with our hands on their shoulders, gently escorting them through the argument. It’s an image that works for me and I’ve tried to share it with others as well.

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa is assistant professor of history at Illinois College. His book, Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War, is now available for pre-order and will be published October 22.

This post was co-published on the University of North Carolina Press blog.


New Fall Titles Feature Indigenous Literatures and Transnational Scholarship
Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

In addition to six new First Peoples titles, our partners are publishing other exciting work in the field of Indigenous studies this season. With a strong focus on Indigenous literatures and transnational methodologies, these books promise to expand awareness and deepen understandings of Indigenous agency, resilience, and self-representation.

Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies
Chadwick Allen
In Trans-Indigenous, Chadwick Allen proposes methodologies for a global Native literary studies based on focused comparisons of diverse texts, contexts, and traditions in order to foreground the richness of Indigenous self-representation and the complexity of Indigenous agency. The result is a provocative reorienting of the call for Native intellectual, artistic, and literary sovereignty that fully prioritizes the global Indigenous.
University of Minnesota Press


Comparative Indigeneities of the Américas
Edited by M. Bianet Castellanos, Lourdes Gutiérrez Najera, and Arturo J. Aldama
The effects of colonization on the Indigenous peoples of the Américas over the past 500 years have varied greatly. So too have the forms of resistance, resilience, and sovereignty. In the face of these differences, the contributors to this volume contend that understanding commonalities in these Indigenous experiences will strengthen resistance to colonial forces still at play. This volume marks a critical moment in bringing together transnational and interdisciplinary scholarship to articulate new ways of pursuing critical Indigenous studies.
University of Arizona Press

The Red Land to the South: American Indian Writers and Indigenous Mexico
James H. Cox
The forty years of American Indian literature taken up by James H. Cox—the decades between 1920 and 1960—have been called politically and intellectually moribund. However, Cox identifies a group of American Indian writers who share an interest in the revolutionary potential of the Indigenous peoples of Mexico—and whose work demonstrates a surprisingly assertive literary politics in the era.
University of Minnesota Press

Matrons and Maids: Regulating Indian Domestic Service in Tucson, 1914–1934
Victoria Haskins
From 1914 to 1934 the US government sent Native American girls to work as domestic servants in the homes of white families. Matrons and Maids tells this forgotten history through the eyes of the women who facilitated their placements.During those two decades,”outing matrons” oversaw and managed the employment of young Indian women. In Tucson, Arizona, the matrons acted as intermediaries between the Indian and white communities and between the local Tucson community and the national administration, the Office of Indian Affairs.
University of Arizona Press

Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars’ Club
Christopher B. Teuton with Hastings Shade, Sammy Still, Sequoyah Guess, and Woody Hansen
Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars’ Club
paints a vivid, fascinating portrait of a community deeply grounded in tradition and dynamically engaged in the present. A collection of forty interwoven stories, conversations, and teachings about Western Cherokee life, beliefs, and the art of storytelling, the book orchestrates a multilayered conversation between a group of honored Cherokee elders, storytellers, and knowledge-keepers and the communities their stories touch.
University of North Carolina Press

Corpse Whale
dg nanouk okpik
A self-proclaimed “vessel in which stories are told from time immemorial,” poet dg nanouk okpik seamlessly melds both traditional and contemporary narrative. The result is a collection of poems that are steeped in the perspective of an Inuit of the twenty-first century—a perspective that is fresh, vibrant, and rarely seen in contemporary poetics.

“dg okpik is a startlingly original poet. She writes of seal skins and walrus and weeks of endless sun and moon that are versed in tradition but also create her own personal mythology. I am constantly mystified and thrilled by her poetry. Read her now.” —Sherman Alexie

Six New First Peoples Titles for Fall 2012
Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

We are pleased to introduce the six new books that will be published into the First Peoples initiative this fall. This season’s titles cover a broad range of topics and regions, but they collectively problematize linear histories and narrow understandings of Indigenous peoples. Themes include mobilization, resistance, identity, and self-representation in books that range in focus from popular uprisings in Bolivia to tribal nation building and decolonizing museum spaces in the U.S., among many other pertinent issues. Stay tuned in the coming months for blog posts that will further explore the writing and research behind each of these works.

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation
By Jean Dennison
From 2004 to 2006 the Osage Nation conducted a contentious governmental reform process in which sharply differing visions arose over the new government’s goals, the Nation’s own history, and what it means to be Osage. The primary debates were focused on biology, culture, natural resources, and sovereignty. Osage anthropologist Jean Dennison documents the reform process in order to reveal the lasting effects of colonialism and to illuminate the possibilities for Indigenous sovereignty. In doing so, she brings to light the many complexities of defining Indigenous citizenship and governance in the twenty-first century.
Available October 2012
University of North Carolina Press

Mobilizing Bolivia’s Displaced: Indigenous Politics and the Struggle Over Land
By Nicole Fabricant
The election of Evo Morales as Bolivia’s president in 2005 made him the first Indigenous head of state in the Americas, a watershed victory for social activists and Native peoples. El Movimiento Sin Tierra (MST), or the Landless Peasant Movement, played a significant role in bringing Morales to power. Following in the tradition of the well-known Brazilian Landless movement, Bolivia’s MST activists seized unproductive land and built farming collectives as a means of resistance to large-scale export-oriented agriculture. In Mobilizing Bolivias Displaced, Nicole Fabricant illustrates how landless peasants politicized indigeneity to shape grassroots land politics, reform the state, and secure human and cultural rights for Native peoples.
Available November 2012
University of North Carolina Press

Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War
By Joseph Genetin-Pilawa
Standard narratives of Native American history view the nineteenth century in terms of steadily declining Indigenous sovereignty, from removal of southeastern tribes to the 1887 General Allotment Act. In Crooked Paths to Allotment, C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa complicates these narratives, focusing on political moments when viable alternatives to federal assimilation policies arose. In these moments, Native American reformers and their white allies challenged coercive practices and offered visions for policies that might have allowed Indigenous nations to adapt at their own pace and on their own terms. Examining the contests over Indian policy from Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, Genetin-Pilawa reveals the contingent state of American settler colonialism.
Available October 2012
University of North Carolina Press

Decolonizing Museums: Representing Native America in National and Tribal Museums
By Amy Lonetree
Museum exhibitions focusing on Native American history have long been curator controlled. However, a shift is occurring, giving Indigenous people a larger role in determining exhibition content. In Decolonizing Museums, Amy Lonetree examines the complexities of these new relationships with an eye toward exploring how museums can grapple with centuries of unresolved trauma as they tell the stories of Native peoples. She investigates how museums can honor an Indigenous worldview and way of knowing, challenge stereotypical representations, and speak the hard truths of colonization within exhibition spaces to address the persistent legacies of historical unresolved grief in Native communities.
Available November 2012
University of North Carolina Press

Creole Indigeneity: Between Myth and Nation in the Caribbean
By Shona N. Jackson
During the colonial period in Guyana, the country’s coastal lands were worked by enslaved Africans and indentured Indians. In Creole Indigeneity, Shona N. Jackson investigates how their descendants, collectively called Creoles, have remade themselves as Guyana’s new natives, displacing Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean through an extension of colonial attitudes and policies. Creoles linked true belonging, and so political and material right, to having performed modern labor on the land; labor thus became the basis for their subaltern, settler modes of indigeneity—a contradiction for belonging under postcoloniality that Jackson terms “Creole indigeneity.” In doing so, her work establishes a new and productive way of understanding the relationship between national power and identity in colonial, postcolonial, and anticolonial contexts.
Available September 2012
University of Minnesota Press

The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from Sherman Institute
Edited by Clifford E. Trafzer, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and Lorene Sisquoc
In 1902, the federal government opened Sherman Institute in Riverside, California to transform American Indian students into productive farmers, carpenters, homemakers, nurses, cooks, and seamstresses. Indian students helped build the school and worked daily at Sherman; administrators provided vocational education and placed them in employment through the Outing Program. Contributors to The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue have drawn on documents held at the Sherman Indian Museum to explore topics such as the building of Sherman, the school’s Mission architecture, the nursing program, the Special Five-Year Navajo Program, the Sherman cemetery, and a photo essay depicting life at the school.
Available December 2012
Oregon State University Press

View our Fall 2012 catalog for more information about all the titles in the First Peoples initiative:



Excerpt: The New Politics of Protest, by Roberta Rice
Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

June 1990 marked the first major Indigenous rebellion in Ecuador since the colonial era. For weeks, Indigenous protesters participated in marches, staged demonstrations, seized government offices, and blockaded roads. Since this insurrection, the organized responses to neoliberalism in Latin America have continued to escalate. Roberta Rice’s book, The New Politics of Protest: Indigenous Mobilization in Latin America’s Neoliberal Era (University of Arizona Press 2012) seeks to analyze when, where, and why Indigenous protests against free-market reforms have occurred in Latin America. In the following excerpt from the introduction, Rice describes why she selected Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru as sites for her case studies. In doing so, she provides a snapshot of Indigenous mobilization in each of those countries.

Indigenous Mobilization in Latin America
By Roberta Rice

Latin American popular movements are at the forefront of antiglobalization efforts. Nevertheless, the region’s recent surge in protest events has been highly uneven. While some countries have experienced massive civil revolts in response to market reforms, in many others social protest remains muted and localized. In spite of this fact, the growing body of scholarly work on social protest in Latin America has overwhelmingly focused on the positive cases of protest, thus selecting on the dependent variable (Collier and Mahoney 1996; King, Keohane, and Verba 1994). The countries of Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru are an appropriate set of cases for examining Indigenous and popular mobilization as they provide a full range of variation on the dependent variable.

These countries share a number of similar historical, political, and demographic characteristics. All four are Andean republics with significant Indigenous populations that have recently made transitions to democracy from military dictatorships. They are the South American countries with the four largest Indigenous populations, both in relative and absolute terms. The Indigenous population of Bolivia is estimated at 50.5 percent of the total population, Peru at 39.4 percent, Ecuador at 24.9 percent, and Chile at 7.1 percent.[i] While the Indigenous population of Chile is comparatively small, it has taken on a politically active and high-profile role in society that reflects the general dynamic explored in this book. The Chilean case also has important theoretical implications for Indigenous protest movements in other countries of the region with relatively small Indigenous populations, uch as Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras.

An important distinction between the cases, however, is that while powerful, national-level protest movements in response to neoliberalism have developed in Ecuador and Bolivia, popular protests and mobilizations in Peru and Chile remain deeply divided and regional in scope. Following Eckstein (1980), properties of protest can be differentiated according to scope (local versus nationwide), intensity (peaceful versus militant), targets (specific policies versus the overall economic model), and degree of organization (spontaneous versus well organized).

Ecuador’s Indigenous movement was once widely regarded as the strongest and most well organized in Latin America. The Indigenous movement previously stood out for its organizational capacity in uniting diverse sectors of civil society in the struggle against neoliberalism and for launching its own national political party, the Pachakutik Movement (Rice 2006; Van Cott 2005). As opposed to a conventional political party, Pachakutik was originally conceived of more as a political instrument for channeling popular-sector interests and bringing them before the state, including the interests of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peasants, Afro-Ecuadoreans, environmentalists, women, youth, and workers (MUPP-NP 2003). The success of Ecuador’s Indigenous movement in derailing neoliberal economic reforms to a certain extent has been the result of its two-pronged strategy based on opposition both in the streets and in the parliament. However, its disastrous and short-lived experiment in co-governing with President Lucio Gutiérrez in 2003 undermined the Indigenous movement’s legitimacy and prestige. The failure of the Indigenous movement to create durable horizontal linkages to other popular-sector actors and to define the political agenda left the movement increasingly isolated, fragmented, and on the political defensive. Current President Rafael Correa, a “leftturn” leader, has largely absorbed the indigenous movement’s platforms and proposals.

As in Ecuador, Indigenous movements in Bolivia have played a central role in recent social upheavals in the country. Through the use of parallel protest activities, Indigenous and popular groups are able to effectively shut down the entire country. Neoliberalism has become a potent organizing symbol around which civil-society actors gather support for their resistance efforts (Crabtree 2005; Dangl 2007; Kohl and Farthing 2006). The various social actors within Bolivian society are not only organized at the local level, there also appears to be an element of coordination among popular movements at the national level. The tidal wave of resistance efforts that has overcome the country since the turn of this century helped to sweep indigenous leader Evo Morales and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party into office in 2005. One of the first actions taken by President Morales in his first hundred days in office was to renegotiate Bolivia’s oil and gas contracts with foreign multinational corporations. This move to partially “nationalize” the industries is considered the first step in undermining the neoliberal economic model that has been in force in the country since the mid-1980s (Veltmeyer 2007).

Antineoliberal resistance efforts in Peru have been hampered by the country’s fragmented and divided civil society. Although localized protests are frequent and numerous in Peru, there is no coherent overarching framework to unite various social actors (Burt 2005). In this context, militant groups such as the Shining Path and the Ethno-Cacerists—a quasi-Indigenous military group—are able to take hold of and co-opt popular discontent for their own purposes. There are a number of nascent popular movements in the country, including the coca growers’ movement in southern Peru (Denissen, Van Dun, and Koonings 2004; Felbab-Brown 2006), the antimining movement in the highlands (De Echave 2005), and a regional Indigenous movement in the Amazonian lowlands (Van Cott 2005). In recent years, Peru has also experienced a civil uprising against the privatization of state-owned electric companies in Arequipa as well as other revolts against foreign direct investment in various regions of the country (Arce 2008). However, thus far Peru’s popular groups have been unable to form a national-level coalition. The diversity of the various protest groups’ interests and their lack of unity make it possible for the government to manipulate and co-opt dissent in order to forge ahead with unpopular reforms.

The case of Chile is noteworthy for its current low levels of popular protest and mobilization in the face of market-oriented reforms. Chile is Latin America’s earliest and deepest market liberalizer, with stark consequences for its once strong labor movement. Economic restructuring has reduced the number of permanent and unionized workers and weakened the political and economic bargaining power of the contemporary labor movement in the process. The result is a general decline in the capacity of average Chilean citizens to organize and act politically (Kurtz 2004b). While much of Chilean society may have been demobilized by market reforms, the nation’s Indigenous peoples have increasingly shown potential to become a key mobilizing force. Although numerically small and localized in the center–south region of the country, Mapuche groups have led the resistance effort against neoliberal economic policies throughout the country (Haughney 2006; Millaman 1996). The Mapuche movement has been in volved in violent clashes with Chilean authorities over its land seizures and protests against economic-development projects that impinge on their ancestral territories. It remains to be seen whether the Chilean Indigenous movement will be capable of presenting a unified front in making its demands on the state.

From The New Politics of Protest: Indigenous Mobilization in Latin America’s Neoliberal Era by Roberta Rice. © 2012 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

“Rice takes a surprisingly fresh look at the role of Indigenous people in anti-neoliberal protest. With a remarkably clear-eyed view of a large amount of the literature, this book represents an extremely effective deployment of historical institutionalist insights to the study of Indigenous protest. Rice also uses original research to shed new light on important cases.” — José Antonio Lucero

Roberta Rice is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. The New Politics of Protest: Indigenous Mobilization in Latin America’s Neoliberal Era is now available from the University of Arizona Press.

[i] Indigenous population size in Latin America is notoriously difficult to estimate accurately given the fluid and ambiguous nature of ethnic identities in the region (Madrid 2005) as well as the technical complexities involved (Layton and Patrinos 2006). However, the estimates provided by Deruyttere (1997) that are used here are generally considered reflective of overall indigenous-population size by country.

Excerpt: The House on Diamond Hill, by Tiya Miles
Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

At the turn of the nineteenth century, James Vann, a Cherokee chief and entrepreneur, established Diamond Hill, the most famous plantation in the southeastern Cherokee Nation. In The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, the first full-length study to reconstruct the history of the plantation, MacArthur Fellow Tiya Miles tells the story of Diamond Hill’s founding, its flourishing, its takeover by white land-lottery winners on the eve of the Cherokee Removal, its decay, and its renovation in the 1950s. Vividly written and extensively researched, this history illuminates gender, class, and cross-racial relationships on the southern frontier.

The House on Diamond Hill was awarded the 2011 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize from the American Society for Ethnohistory, the 2011 National Council on Public History Book Award, and the 2011 Lilla M. Hawes Award from Georgia Historical Society. The first paperback edition was released this month.

The following excerpt from the prologue of The House on Diamond Hill is crossposted on The University of North Carolina Press blog:

“Something about this house inspires lunacy in people.”
—Julia Autry, interpretive ranger, Chief Vann House State Historic Site, December 2006

I had trod this Georgia road many times before, but never at night, never in winter. The air was frigid, the sky gloweringly black. But out of the darkness, off in the distance, the grand house glowed. Candles shone in every window. Beribboned wreaths of evergreen hung from the double doors. The promised warmth of interior spaces, hidden from view, beckoned through the gloom. It was lovely, this old plantation house, perched, as it was, atop a hillside. Striking in its grandeur. Alluring in its light. I could almost believe, staring up at the glowing, Palladian window panes, that the year was 1806, that Cherokees still possessed the lands of northern Georgia, that the wealthy Cherokee family who once dwelled in this home would appear at a doorway in waistcoats and bustles.

But this was not 1806. It was 2006. The family who had built this house had long passed into memory, and the home was owned and cared for by Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. I had come here to attend the Chief Vann House State Historic Site’s Christmas by Candlelight celebration. And I found that, as William Chase Parker, an eighteen-year-old employee of the Vann House had put it, the “Christmas Spirit of the community” was very much in evidence.[1] A team of local volunteers from the nonprofit group Friends of the Vann House had readied the home for show. In the place of modern lighting, candles had been lit throughout the house and luminaries positioned along exterior pathways. Natural embellishments of dried okra pods, oiled magnolia leaves, and fanned cedar boughs festooned the interior rooms. The hand-carved mantels were topped by crimson-bowed wreaths, and inside every working hearth, a warming fire had been lit. The ornate dining table was set for a sumptuous holiday meal fit for a king or an Indian chief.

In addition to staging this event, the Friends group volunteers also hosted it, standing in the stead of the long- gone Vann family. The women Friends who guided visitors on the house tour were dressed to match the stately rooms, in festive red wraps and shawls and gold- toned jewelry that shone in the candlelight. In the parlor, Tim Howard, past president of the Whitfield- Murray Counties Historical Society, played a tune on the piano. A female tourist joined him, singing an impromptu Christmas carol to spirited applause. Children of the Friends of the Vann House members, wearing period dress of breeches and homespun cotton, also guided visitors through the home. On the third floor, in what would have been the Vann family’s children’s rooms, young tour guides described the games that Cherokee boys and girls would have played.

In a cozy cabin adjacent to the main house, chief interpretive ranger Julia Autry, one of the two full-time employees at the Vann House, welcomed visitors with cookies and cocoa by warming firelight. She answered questions about the home and described colorful individuals in the Vann family. Christmas by Candlelight was the most popular annual event that the Vann House museum sponsored, and Ranger Chase Parker captured in words the recurring magic of the scene:

The Christmas Candlelight Tour is the most authentic celebration held at the site today. . . . I believe that when walking through the home during those candle lit nights, one gets the closest glimpse possible of how the home looked during Joseph [Vann’s] time. The night hides so much of the modernization inside and surrounding the home. Also, the way that candlelight affects people today is probably the same way that it affected people two hundred years ago. So the feeling people get when they see the candle’s flame flicker and the fires’ reflections sway on the walls is a feeling much like the visitors of the Vanns’ did in the early eighteen hundreds.

The rare feeling that Ranger Parker described of being transported into the past was one that the public hungered for, as evidenced by the one hundred to two hundred people who were expected to tour this tucked-away historic house over the course of the two-day event. This particular 2006 holiday season, Ranger Autry explained, their numbers had reached that projected highpoint on the very first evening. And as I write these words in the spring of 2009, the Vann House has just announced that the 2008 Christmas event broke past records, drawing over eight hundred visitors to the “delightful” fires “inside the old mansion.”[2]

Throughout the year, visitors travel to the Vann House from nearby towns, the city of Atlanta, the states of Tennessee and Oklahoma, across the United States, and even around the world. This night, almost all of the tourists were white and southern: young adults with babes in arms, elderly couples, adolescents. Latino teens made up the second largest group, reflective of the changing population dynamics of many southern cities. As the only African American person I could visually identify, I may have stood out among the crowd. Nor did I note, on the single night that I was there, the presence of Cherokees or other Native American people. Some visitors were seeing the Vann House for the first time, but many others had been there on several occasions before. The latter spoke animatedly and knowledgeably about members of the historical Vann family, debating theories about the Vanns’ personalities and the motivation for acts undertaken long ago. The second set of guests returned to this place again and again, as if it were their own ancestral home.

The volunteers, too, had walked these grounds many a time, following in the footsteps of generations of family members from Murray County, Georgia, and surrounds, a predominantly white area. The children who guided tours on the upper floor of the home spoke of their grandparents’ work as volunteers at the Vann House. A young man who led guests through a Cherokee cabin on the grounds explained that he was following in his elder brother’s footsteps as a Vann House worker. The inherited aspect of Vann House volunteerism was so pronounced that site employees recognized it in their seasonal newsletter, writing: “[T]he Vann House somehow seems to produce this special type of generational selflessness.”[3] The devotion of local volunteers amazed Ranger Autry, who compared their unflagging love for this house to a rather less enthusiastic embrace of Cherokee political historic sites in Georgia. A woman of wry but good-natured humor, Autry called some volunteers’ passion for the Vann House a form of “lunacy.”[4]

And perhaps this manor home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains did hold just a bit of the moon’s magic. People fell for this place—the home, the hills, the mountains on the horizon. The Vann House has a way of casting spells, creating an aura of eras past. Its massive porticoed entry doors, framed in brightest white, double as a portal to another time. For many visitors and volunteers alike, the effect has been a sense of connection, a feeling of comfort, serenity, pleasure, and release from the cares of our day-to-day world. And I was really no exception. This Christmas marked my fifth visit to the site, and if I had been immune to the house’s beauty, it is doubtful I would have chosen to write this book. But, I am compelled to ask, what is it we are connecting with when we walk the oak halls of this exquisite plantation home—one hundred and seventy years after Cherokees were forcibly removed from the South, one hundred and forty years after African Americans slaves were emancipated from slavery? What really took place on these well-worn grounds? What does this house stand for?

That wintry evening, during the Christmas tour, I visited the cellar of the Chief Vann House. Unlike the above-ground rooms that hummed with the movement of scores of guests, this space that formed the home’s foundation was quiet, empty. A lone volunteer, a young man of about thirteen dressed in period clothing, stood ready to describe the cold, desolate rooms. “This is where the slaves would have worked,” he told me. “Shackles were found in the corner,” he said.

Instead of climbing the basement stairs to reenter the warm, bright body of the house, I made my way outside through the cellar’s slim side door. From this angle, facing away from the burnished brick home, all was dark, all was chill.


Tiya Miles is the Elsa Barkley Brown Collegiate Professor of African American Women’s History and professor of history, American culture, Afroamerican and African studies, and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. Her first book, Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, won the Organization of American Historians’ Turner Prize and the American Studies Association’s Romero Prize. In 2011 she was selected as a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.


[1] Interview with William Chase Parker, May 10 and June 3, 2007, Vann House Oral History Project, Conducted by Tiya Miles, Fall 2006-Fall 2008.

[2] “Christmas Program Sets New Attendance and Revenue Records,” Friends of the Vann House Newsletter, Winter 2009.

[3] “Vann House Volunteerism Passed down through Generations,” Vann HouseStaff Notes, Winter/Spring 2006.

[4] Julia Autry, conversation with Tiya Miles, December 2006, Spring Place, GA.

Book Excerpt: “Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France”
Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French colonists and their Native allies participated in a slave trade that spanned half of North America, carrying thousands of Native Americans into bondage in the Great Lakes, Canada, and the Caribbean. In Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, Brett Rushforth reveals the dynamics of this system from its origins to the end of French colonial rule. Balancing a vast geographic and chronological scope with careful attention to the lives of enslaved individuals, this book gives voice to those who lived through the ordeal of slavery and, along the way, shaped French and Native societies. The following excerpt from the book illustrates the complexities of the Native slave trade, from the intercultural negotiations that shaped it to the role it played in the performance of ethnic identities.

Intercultural Negotiations in New France’s Native Slave Trade
By Brett Rushforth

This study explores the relationship between indigenous and Atlantic slaveries in New France, a colony centered on the Saint Lawrence River and stretching westward to a region the French called the Pays d’en Haut, or Upper Country (roughly the Western Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi Valley). Between about 1660 and 1760, French colonists and their Native allies enslaved thousands of Indians, keeping them in the towns and villages of New France or shipping them to the French Caribbean. Over time, a vast network of slave raiders, traders, and owners emerged, ensnaring both colonists and Indians in the violence that generated slaves and kept them under French control. Unlike many American colonies, where Indian slaves were replaced by Africans in the early stages of settlement, Native slavery predominated in New France throughout the colony’s final century. Driven by the dual demands of alliance politics and economic profits, slavery in New France bridged the geographic and conceptual divides separating the worlds that produced the Great Lakes halter and the Caribbean shackles, forcing creative cultural adaptations that would transform both worlds. From the strategic violence that reduced Indians to bondage, through a slave trade that spanned half a continent, to the cultural norms and structures of restraint that shaped the daily lives of enslaved individuals, Indian slavery in New France profoundly affected both Native and French colonial societies.

That French colonists enslaved large numbers of Indians might seem incompatible with the prevailing view of intercultural relations in New France and its hinterlands. French-Native interactions are widely known for the cultural adaptations and creative innovations that facilitated trade, diplomacy, and kinship across large portions of North America. Because they colonized New France in relatively small numbers, the French had no choice but to embed themselves within indigenous political economies, adapting to (if hoping to manipulate) Native interests to gain the economic and geopolitical advantages of American colonialism. Indians adapted, too. Eager to acquire French manufactured goods—especially cloth and metal tools but also guns and other weapons—Indians tolerated and sometimes even embraced the French interlopers to gain the material benefits of European commodities and to secure French military support against their enemies. Over time hundreds of small acts of cultural negotiation combined to create a regional culture that was neither French nor Indian, but rather a new creation of the colonial world.[1]

The slave trade grew from, and indeed offers a strong example of, these intercultural negotiations in the Pays d’en Haut. As the region’s Natives encountered French traders and eventually settlers in the second half of the seventeenth century, they greeted them with rituals and gifts to signal their friendship and to invite the newcomers into an alliance. Among the most significant of these gifts were enslaved enemies, offered as a sign of trust and evidence of Native power. From these beginnings, Natives and the French developed a sustained slave trade built upon decades of small-scale exchanges of bodies, goods, and ideas. Slavery reveals a somber dimension to cultural accommodation in the Pays d’en Haut, showing that its success was often founded on a shared commitment to violence. Yet even this violence was a product of mutual adaptation and produced new cultural forms that persisted for generations.

Eighteenth Century American Indian Slave Halter, Great Lakes Region. Colonial Williamsburg Collection, 1996–816. Photo courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

If slavery fits comfortably within this broad understanding of French-Native cultural relations, it also forces reorientation. Among the Indians of the Pays d’en Haut, slaving was not only a means of bolstering population and production; it was, perhaps primarily, a performance of ethnic identity. Slave raids helped to maintain alliances by enforcing their boundaries, defining who was included or excluded and demonizing those on the outside. When the French arrived in the Pays d’en Haut, early observers thought they had found a world so ruined by Iroquois wars that ethnic markers of language, kinship, and regional settlement had broken apart, leaving, in the words of one historian, “a world made of fragments.” This initial impression turned into a French fantasy, which willed the region’s Indians into a single category, overlooking the ethnic boundaries that Indians themselves insisted still mattered. Adapted to this new colonial reality, the slave trade provided Natives with a powerful restraint to the French ambition of creating a regionwide alliance against the will of their allies. If French traders or diplomats insisted on befriending their allies’ enemies, slaving became the preferred strategy for the offended ally to express discontent. In the contours of the Indian slave trade, then, we can read an indigenous counternarrative to the French story of ethnic shattering in the Pays d’en Haut. From this new perspective, the French insistence on mediating, rather than taking sides in, disputes between Native groups registers as a cynical attempt to exert authority rather than an example of French accommodation to Native cultural demands[2].

Native slaving practices resonated well beyond the Pays d’en Haut, intersecting with and influencing slavery in the broader French Atlantic world. The supply of Indian slaves was rooted in the distant West, but the motives behind French demand and the models of slavery they sought to replicate in New France originated in the Caribbean. Over the seventeenth century, colonists in the Caribbean islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Christophe, and eventually Saint Domingue developed a successful plantation economy dependent upon slave labor. The success of these plantations made the Caribbean an ideal colonial model, particularly when it came to slavery. New France’s legal system continually cited justifications of slavery developed in the Caribbean to defend Native enslavement, protecting slaveholders’ right to hold Indians as slaves. The export of enslaved Indians to the Caribbean ensured that this influence would run in both directions. Individual Native slaves contributed to the cultural diversity of places like Martinique and Guadeloupe, and the Indian slave trade forced renewed Caribbean debates about the moral and legal foundations of slavery.

Envious of Caribbean success, French colonists in the Saint Lawrence Valley spent the better part of a century trying to fit New France’s Native slavery into a Caribbean mold. They largely failed. Instead, there emerged a set of complex, localized cultures of slavery that differed widely between the French settlements of the Pays d’en Haut and the Saint Lawrence Valley, all of them influenced by the free and enslaved Natives on whom the French depended for colonial success. For the enslaved, this local variation often meant that they lived their lives in a succession of very different places, forced to adapt to a wide range of regional norms. They could become enslaved wives of métis traders in Detroit, cooks in a Montreal hospital, plantation workers in the sugar fields of Martinique, or all of these in sequence.

In addition to outlining the cultural, economic, and legal structures of Native slavery in New France, then, I have aimed, wherever possible, to recover the details of enslaved individuals’ lives: their names, ages, friends, lovers, occupations, and, occasionally, even their aspirations and fears. I believe that these portraits add an important dimension to my analysis, demonstrating the wide range of slaves’ experiences and showing the limits of their opportunities. But telling their many stories is more than a narrative device. It reflects an ethical commitment to recognize the humanity of the enslaved, something their masters sought to deny. If their lives are useful because they illuminate the systems through which they passed, their value is intrinsic.

From BONDS OF ALLIANCE: INDIGENOUS AND ATLANTIC SLAVERIES IN NEW FRANCE by Brett Rushforth. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Copyright © 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Brett Rushforth is associate professor of history at the College of William and Mary. His book, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France, is now available for purchase from the University of North Carolina Press.

This excerpt is crossposted on the University of North Carolina Press blog.

[1] Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (Cambridge, 1991); Gilles Havard, Empire et métissages: Indiens et Français dans le Pays d’en Haut, 1660–1715 (Paris, 2003); Catherine M. Desbarats, Avant- propos, in White, Le middle ground: Indiens, empires, et républiques dans la region des Grands Lacs, 1650–1815 (Paris, 2009) 5–22; Desbarats, “Following The Middle Ground,” WMQ, 3d Ser., LXIII (2006), 81–96; Christopher Hodson and Brett Rushforth, “Absolutely Atlantic: Colonialism and the Early Modern French State in Recent Historiography,” History Compass, VIII (2010), 101–117.

[2] White, Middle Ground, 1–49; Havard, Empire et métissages, 113–203; Heidi Bohaker, “Nindoodemag: The Significance of Algonquian Kinship Networks in the Eastern Great Lakes Region, 1600–1701,” WMQ, 3d Ser., LXIII (2006), 23–52. For a fuller discussion of Native ethnicities and regional alliances in the Pays d’en Haut, see Chapter 1. 

Empowering the Navajo Nation
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Part autobiography, part interview, and part conversation, the new book We Will Secure Our Future: Empowering the Navajo Nation by Peterson Zah and Peter Iverson touches on a wide range of overlapping topics, but two central themes prevail: education and empowerment. Peterson Zah has been a passionate advocate for his people and worked as a public servant in several roles, including as President of the Navajo Nation. Peter Iverson is a regent’s professor of history (emeritus) at Arizona State University. The two formed a relationship through the years when Zah would present for Iverson’s classes. We Will Secure Our Future grew out of Iverson’s determination to share Peterson Zah’s insights. The two met every few months to consider many subjects related to Zah’s life. Today we offer an excerpt of one of their conversations about Zah’s contributions to local governance and higher education.

Iverson: I’ve often thought about your particular upbringing in that stretch of territory between Keams Canyon and Low Mountain and your sense about the chapter house, and the fact that you didn’t want Window Rock to be the only place where they were making decisions. It seems to me that you have been dedicated to empowering the local chapters. When you became the chairman, you didn’t want to be the imperial president. You wanted to make sure the local people had a say in what was going on. Is that a correct assumption on my part?

Zah: Yes. I would say that is probably a correct assumption, because it is something that I was involved in right from the beginning. I mean, I cared about people—I was very well-versed in the hardship that most people went through. I also knew about the needs and the desires of individuals that live out in the community of Low Mountain. And I knew that, if given the opportunity, many of the people that I grew up with would take advantage of those opportunities. Sometimes you have to be mindful of the fact that when you present those opportunities to individuals, that many will take advantage of those opportunities. Those individuals are able to function very well in their community, or even on or off the reservation because they saw how important those opportunities were. And one of those opportunities was going out of your community to receive your education, and then using that education to better not only your own family, but the community. The Navajo Nation, for example, can benefit from that.

I spent a lot of my lifetime defending the rights of the individual, because I knew that if given some opportunities, these individuals would surface somewhere to become leaders of the Navajo Nation. I guess that’s the reason I’m here at Arizona State University—because I see a lot of good qualities in young people, Navajo people that come through colleges and universities here in the Valley. When I see one of those students, I always work with them in such a way that they understand that they have a duty to go back to their home communities, wherever they came from, to serve the people.

Iverson: If you think about the people from the Navajo Nation who come here to school, the numbers are really remarkable. When you were finishing up at ASU, I bet if somebody said to you, “Forty-six years from now there will be more than eight hundred Navajo students at ASU rather than eight,” you would probably have been pretty skeptical that that day would ever come. And yet here we are. You’ve had a major role in bringing that about, in terms of working with the admissions staff and financial aid and things like that. This is a big university, and it’s a lot to take on in terms of seeing the concrete, positive results. Not everybody is a success story. But what I find myself saying to Navajo students—the key message is one of empowerment. Saying, “You can do it.” You have to believe in yourself, but this is an opportunity. I’ve seen person after person accept that challenge, and at the end of the year in Neeb Hall or wherever we are, when you’re speaking about the people who are graduating or going on, that has to be an evening of particular pride and emotion for you.

Zah: Well, that all came about because I had a vision. I had a dream of my own, that if we educate more youngsters on the Navajo reservation they would rise to the occasion, become self-sufficient, and solve their own problems. And the way to get to that stage is to recruit those students who are able, capable, and with good character, good academic record, that see all of this as an opportunity—if you can get those individuals to a university and then begin working with them, that is something that I wanted to do and wanted to promote and implement here at ASU.

In other words, when I came here to ASU in 1995, one of the things that I was told was that the university was really interested in getting more Indian students. Well, I had to figure out, how do you get more students? And then I started going out into the communities, seeing and talking to different tribal government leaders within the state here, as well as in the Southwest, and started recruiting students. And when you start dealing with those numbers, you have to set a goal for yourself. That’s when we sat down and said, “By the year 2015, we’ve got to have two thousand American Indian students here on campus.” And it’s a goal that we set for ourselves. That’s something to work for every day. You have to say, “Today, I’ve got to recruit so many more students to come to ASU.”

If we can have Indian youngsters come to ASU, and then put them back on the reservation upon graduation, many of those problems will come to its own resolution by its own people. We can’t always expect somebody to come in from somewhere and start working on those problems for us. It has to be done from within. And those are American Indian students that have an opportunity to blossom into powerful leaders. That’s the only way that we can effectively resolve those issues.

Iverson: In American society, many people remain uncertain about education, and what it will bring, and whether it will take people away from you. I think you and others deserve a lot of credit for your determination to set a course that would be productive. I can’t walk across the ASU campus at any time of the day without seeing Navajo people. I believe your work here has made a difference.

Zah: Well, that’s a wonderful thing to see. I do the same thing. I went to school here at Arizona State University in the early 1960s. And when you walked across campus, you didn’t see anybody that was Native. And nowadays, I walk across the campus, and it’s not unusual, for example, to go from my office over to the law school and along the way have three individuals that stop you, and they want to shake hands and they want to introduce themselves and talk. And those are our own people. Those are our own American Indian students. And the same thing happens when I go from my office over to the president’s office or over to the football stadium. It’s not unusual to see three to five people that stop you and introduce themselves as individuals who come from your tribe. And it gives me a great feeling, a lot of satisfaction.

From We Will Secure Our Future: Empowering the Navajo Nation by Peterson Zah and Peter Iverson. © 2012 The Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

Born in Keams Canyon, Arizona, in 1937 Peterson Zah became director of the Navajo Legal Services Program. He was later elected as Chairman of the Navajo Tribal Council and then as president of the Navajo Nation. He was also special advisor to the president of Arizona State University, which presented him with an honorary doctorate in 2005. Peter Iverson is Regents’ Professor of History (emeritus) at Arizona State University. He is the author or editor of 15 books, including Diné: A History of the Navajo and “We Are Still Here”: American Indians in the Twentieth Century. We Will Secure Our Future is now available from the University of Arizona Press.

Excerpt: Memories of Conquest, by Laura E. Matthew
Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Indigenous allies helped the Spanish gain a foothold in the Americas. What did these Indian conquistadors expect from the partnership, and what were the implications of their involvement in Spain’s New World empire? Laura Matthew’s study of Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala—the first study to focus on a single allied colony over the entire colonial period—places the Nahua, Zapotec, and Mixtec conquistadors of Guatemala and their descendants within a deeply Mesoamerican historical context. Drawing on archives, ethnography, and colonial Mesoamerican maps, Matthew argues that the conquest cannot be fully understood without considering how these Indian conquistadors first invaded and then, of their own accord and largely by their own rules, settled in Central America.

In the following excerpt from Matthew’s book Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala, Matthew introduces the complexities of the identities at stake in Guatemala. (pp. 1-3):


The conquest of largely Maya territory by foreign invaders in the years 1524-28 is perhaps the most important story of their history for the people of contemporary Guatemala. The invasion followed on the heels of viruses that would kill millions of native K’iche’, Mam, Pipil, and other southern Mesoamericans over the following century. It destroyed the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel Maya cities of Utatlán and Iximché, and laid the foundations of Spanish American cities in their stead. It precipitated half a millennia so far of colonial and neocolonial rule over Central America by people of largely European descent. Over time, it created a new people out of the resulting mix of Native Americans, Africans, Europeans, and Asians: the Ladinos who make up roughly half of Guatemala’s population today.

The Guatemala experience resonates, too, as a chapter in a much larger tale. With local variations, it repeats the story of European conquest throughout the Americas—in Cuba, Mexico, Massachusetts, Virginia, Chile. Individually and collectively, these conquests symbolize one of the most dramatic moments in world history: the meeting of the “old” and “new” worlds, the demographic collapse of indigenous American populations, the birth of the world economy, the beginning of modernity. Such grand phrases are commonplace in tales of the conquest of the Americas told in classrooms, history books, cartoons, rock music, opera, political manifestos, and novels. Different characters are cast as heroes or villains, scenes start at different points, and the moral of the story may shift. The basic outline, however, remains the same.

But there are other ways of telling the story, which can make European conquest look like something else altogether. Such are the memories of conquest presented in this book. Many thousands of indigenous allies from central Mexico and Oaxaca invaded Central America alongside a few hundred Spaniards in 1524-28. Hundreds remained behind as colonists. In a small town called Ciudad Vieja in central Guatemala, the descendants of these warriors and colonists gradually became Mexicanos: a local group of Mesoamericans subjugated as Indians by the colonial system, but who enjoyed privileges not available to their Maya neighbors based on their identity as conquistadors. The extent of these Nahuas’ and Oaxacans’ participation in the invasions of 1524-28 undermines the very notion of a Spanish conquest. Their lives as Indian conquistadors in Guatemala suggest that we still have a long way to go to understand the lived experience of colonialism by the American continents’ indigenous peoples.

To understand the Mexicanos’ memories of conquest requires a reimagining of the conquest itself. Historians have traditionally asked, sometimes with a heavy dose of amazement, how so few Europeans conquered tens of millions of people. Implicitly, the earliest military confrontations between Europeans, their indigenous allies, and various foes (who subsequently themselves often became allies) are taken to represent European colonization as it was accomplished over hundreds of years, with varying degrees of control and success and with the terrible aid of epidemic disease. Attempting to see things from the Mexicanos’ point of view, however, suggests that “how the Europeans did it” may be the wrong question to ask of these initial diplomatic encounters and military clashes. The Mexicanos of Ciudad Vieja did not remember their role in the conquest as an auxiliary, nor the Spaniards as being in total control of military campaigns. Instead, they remembered the invasion of Guatemala as a joint affair and their own role in it with pride. The Mexicanos’ mostly triumphant recollections of the period are not hegemonic. Like all memories they are selective, woven and rewoven into stories of the past that, in this case, explained and justified the Mexicanos’ superior position in colonial Guatemala. They cannot represent the experiences of the Tz’utujil Maya who surrendered in 1524 (and today often emphasize their peaceful reception of the invaders), or the Kaqchikel who fought a bitter guerrilla war between 1524 and 1530 (and today celebrate their resistance), or the Central American Nicarao taken as slaves and forced to participate in the invasions of Yucatan in the following decade. They do not even represent a unified Mexicano viewpoint; archives, by their nature, winnow out much of what is unofficial, individual, difficult to classify, or merely undocumented. Nevertheless, the Mexicanos’ surviving memories of conquest remind us of a face that many Europeans at the time and subsequent historians recognized: that without native allies, Spanish expansion throughout Mesoamerica would not have been possible. Indeed, when the leadership roles and overwhelming numbers of the allies are taken seriously, it becomes difficult to think of this as Spanish expansion at all. The historian’s question then becomes, why did so many Mesoamericans work willingly with the Europeans? Is this a story of treason and collaboration? Of profound misunderstanding and miscalculation? Or of something else altogether, that forces us to dismantle and reassemble traditional narratives of European conquest?

It is impossible to answer these questions from the vantage point of European history alone, without taking indigenous America’s history into full account. This requires displacing Europeans from the center of the narrative—a more difficult task, perhaps, than merely acknowledging indigenous allies’ participation in the military campaigns.


From Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala by Laura E. Matthew. Copyright © 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Laura E. Matthew is assistant professor of history at Marquette University.

[This article is crossposted at]

Alice Te Punga Somerville on Writing in Place
Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

In Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Place (UMN Press 2012), Alice Te Punga Somerville illustrates how Māori and other Pacific peoples draw their identity not only from land but also from water. She interrogates the relationship between indigeneity, migration, and diaspora, focusing on texts such as poetry, fiction, theater, film, and music, viewed alongside historical instances of performance, journalism, and scholarship. Te Punga Somerville’s work fundamentally articulates a more expansive understanding of place. In this excerpt from the book’s introduction, she reflects on writing from that unbounded place.

Writing in Place

Any book is a product of place: one always writes somewhere, and I am writing in a discipline, in a university, and in Aotearoa. Throughout Once Were Pacific, arguments will return to the place of place, from this point right here through until place is given the final word in the epilogue. The roots of this book lie partly in a chapter of my doctoral dissertation, written in the lands of the Cayuga Nation (upstate New York) and the Kanaka Maoli (Hawai̒i), but more particularly, the roots of Once Were Pacific are embedded in this place. One specific point of genesis for this project was an interaction in Hawai̒i when someone mentioned that he was pleased that there was another Pacific Islander in the English department that year; I replied, “Awesome—who is it?” before realizing that the person was talking about me. In that moment and that place, a Māori person was unproblematically Pacific Islander, but Māori and Pacific Islander are distinguished in New Zealand to the extent that I had not recognized myself when I had been spoken about.

Who was that Pacific Islander in the English department? For my part, I have mobility in my blood: I am a member of the Te Punga family, and our tribal connections are primarily to Te Ātiawa. After living in Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island since arriving across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiki many generations ago, we migrated farther southward to the Wellington area—to the land around the harbor in which Matiu Island is located—in the early nineteenth century. Although that is our home base, we have been moving ever since, as individuals and in small family clusters. I was born here in Wellington, but when I was five years old, my immediate family moved to Auckland, where I attended a school in which almost all the kids were Pacific (Māori and Pasifika). Although one tends not to notice these things when one is small, on reflection, I can see how all of this affects who I am today and, importantly, why this is my first book. There are many stories to be told about Māori writing in English and many places to tell them. I have felt some urgency around telling this particular story—Māori articulations of connection with the Pacific—because it helps to answer questions that were in the air I breathed growing up and because the relationship between Indigeneity and migration is so crucial to Indigenous creative, cultural, political, and theoretical activities in the present.

I write as a practicing academic, a scholar, a researcher, and a teacher. Though there are many spaces in which these roles may be filled, I choose to work in a university. However, this book (and this scholar) sits alongside, and seeks neither to ignore nor detract from the multiple ways in which Māori migration across the Pacific is remembered, articulated, and mobilized in whaikōrero, waiata, ruruku, karakia, haka, and visual arts. Once Were Pacific is not about waka traditions or Māori involvement in the revival of Pacific navigation, [i] but it takes for granted that people of waka memory affirm and share those memories in spaces outside as well as inside the university. Plenty of people who are well versed in the topic of waka traditions and the history of voyaging in the Pacific occupy scholarly halls, library bookshelves, and papae.[ii] In important ways, for example, this book seeks to sit alongside a large gathering that was hosted by Ngāti Kahungunu on the eastern coast of the North Island in November 2008. Relatives of Ngāti Kahungunu and of the other Tākitimu-derived iwi (tribes, nations, people) based around that part of the island poured into the area from around the Pacific: most obviously from the Cook Islands, from where the Tākitimu had departed for Aotearoa, but also from Sāmoa and beyond. In a press release, Ngāti Kahungunu iwi chairperson Ngahiwi Tomoana describes the festival as

“a celebration and development initiative in the rebuilding of relationships of indigenous peoples across Aotearoa, the Pacific and the Hawaiiki nation. We encourage all families and communities to celebrate our past, our present and our future in Aotearoa and the Pacific by participating in the festival.” [iii]

Over the course of five days, descendants of Tākitimu celebrated their connections and shared stories and cultural products. Wānanga and other learning opportunities enabled the connections to be communicated and debated during the festival. I hope this book will provide space for other kinds of conversations alongside those we are already having about Māori, about writing in English, about Māori writing in English, about Indigeneity, and about the Pacific.

Once Were Pacific has regional and global roots but has been written in Aotearoa. If I lived elsewhere—indeed, when I did live elsewhere—the questions that would matter would be differently configured to the ones I ask in this book. This book asks questions that are important here, and yet writing from and in a specific place is not necessarily the same as parochialism. This book seeks to speak with, rather than for, others; it also seeks to refrain from speaking at others. Although I have provided cultural and linguistic translations at some points throughout the book to offer hospitality to a wider readership, this is not a visitor’s manual or travel guide. I anticipate that the tight focus of Once Were Pacific on Māori will, rather than produce barriers to consideration of its arguments in allied contexts, ultimately enable more robust extrapolation of its claims beyond Aotearoa. The specificities of the discussion will better enable connection rather than separation. As I write about the dynamics of connection and borders between Māori and Pasifika people during the 1970s Dawn Raids, for example, I cannot help but think about other borders as they are negotiated in the present day in relation to the designations “Indigenous” and “migrant.” Or, to extend the previous example, in Hawai̒i, a Māori person may well be a Pacific Islander, but is a Hawaiian?

Alice Te Punga Somerville is a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Place is now available for purchase from the University of Minnesota Press.

[i] Further information about these original journeys is plentiful. For example, see K.R. Howe, ed., Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors: The Discovery and Settlement of the Pacific (Aukland, New Zealand: David Bateman, 2006).

[ii] The paepae is the space from which orators speak.

[iii] Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Inc., “Supporting Indigenous Rights through Takitimu Fest,” Scoop: Independent News, October 9, 2008.

This post has been published in partnership with University of Minnesota Press.

Interweaving Archival and Ethnographic Research
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

University of North Carolina Press author Miguel La Serna has blogged previously about his research in Peru in the years following the Shining Path Insurgency and the implications of the recent detention of a leader of that guerrilla group. Today, we share an excerpt from his book, The Corner of the Living: Ayacucho on the Eve of the Shining Path Insurgency (UNC Press 2012) that highlights the value of bridging archival and ethnographic research, especially in the aftermath of recent conflict. His reflections provide insight into the challenges and rewards of this kind of critically engaged fieldwork.

Miguel La Serna on Critically Engaged Research in Post-Conflict Peru

I arrive at [my] analysis through a fusion of historical and anthropological methods.[1] As anthropologist Nicholas Dirks illustrates from his own experience, the archive itself can be an intimidating terrain for the nonhistorian.[2] Truth be told, I had a similar experience the first time I entered and archive. Yet as a trained historian, I knew that this was to be expected, that I would have to suppress these anxieties and plug forward – I had to; my research depended on it. The reason for this was that I shared the conventional wisdom within my discipline that, as Dirks so aptly summarizes, “historians can only really become historians or write history once they have been to the archive.”[3] Conversely, I found my introduction to ethnographic fieldwork every bit as chaotic, unfamiliar, and intimidating as Dirk’s first visit to the archive.

I came to this realization during my first visit to Chuschi with my research assistants Julian and Alberto. Julian and I got to the shuttle station at 3:55 A.M. to catch the 4:00 A.M. shuttle from Ayacucho City to Chuschi. It was dark, the shuttle was overcrowded, and we were tired, but it did not take long for us to realize that Alberto, our main Chuschi contact, was not there. Julián jumped into a taxi to swing by Alberto’s place, suspecting that the Chuschino researcher had slept in. As I sat there on the shuttle guarding my friends’ seats with gusto, I thought, Great. Now this shuttle is going to take off and I’ll be arriving in Chuschi for the first time alone. A few moments later, Alberto arrived. I told him Julian had just left to get him. He frowned, “Why? Didn’t we agree to meet at four o’clock?” Luckily, Julian arrived within ten minutes, although he could have arrived in thirty and still had time to spare because our driver did not leave until almost 5:00 A.M.

Once on the road, I went over our oral history questions with Alberto, reviewing key names, dates, and events about Chuschino history that I had pulled from the archive. I told him about Humberto Azcarza, a mestizo power holder who had abused the local indigenous population non-stop between 1935 and 1975.[4] Later on, Alberto showed me an obscure text that he had come across that was a brief history of Quispillaccta, written by Quispillacctinos. I leafed through the pages and began reading aloud a passage about a 1960 conflict between Chuschi and Quispillaccta. The Chuschinos, the authors claimed, were led by the likes of Azcarza and other “foreigners” who had settled in Chuschi. “That’s not true,” interrupted the woman sitting directly across from me and with whom I had been grinding knees for the past two hours. “What makes you say that?” I asked, to which she replied, “Humberto Azcarza was my grandfather.”

My heart sank and I could feel my face turning flush red. Less than an hour earlier I had been talking about Humberto Azcarza as though he was a literary villain and his granddaughter had been sitting next to me all along! Rather than apologize, I decided to let her know about my research. She was very friendly and actually seemed curious to know more: “What other names have you come across in your research? I bet I know them.” We spent the next hour exchanging what we knew of certain people and episodes in Chuschino history. Humberto, her mother’s father, had told my fellow passenger about some of them when she was a young girl living in Chuschi. Others, her father had told her about. “What’s your dad’s name? Maybe I’ve come across him in the record,” I asked. “My dad is Blanco.” This just can’t be, I thought, asking, “Vicente?” She smiled. “That’s him. You’ve heard of him?” I had not just “heard of” Vicente Blanco.[5] I knew that the mestizo power holder had gotten his fair share of complaints from comuneros (indigenous commoners) during his rise to local political power in the 1970s. I knew that he had been charged with a number of serious crimes against the indigenous peasantry. I knew that during the Shining Path insurgency, the rebels submitted Blanco to fifty lashes before chasing him out of town. “Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” was all I could muster. She said that he was in town for the Independence Day festivities, and I told her that it would be fabulous to interview him sometime. She assured us that her father would be happy to participate. When we got off the bus around 8:00 A.M., I gave her my card and she invited us to come to her father’s house later that morning. “Can I borrow that book?” she asked Alberto, referring to the one about Quispillaccta. He agreed, and Alberto, the son of comuneros, never saw the book again.[6]

In many ways, my initial trip to Chuschi reflects the challenges of doing historical anthropology about the late twentieth century. The historical component of most historical anthropology focuses on periods whose human subjects have long since passed away.[7] If living subjects are consulted at all, they are separated from the written record by one or more generations. In my case, however, the very people about whom I had been reading –and forming opinions –in the archives were still living. Even in cases where the historical actors had passed away, their children and neighbors still lived. As such, I had to deal with something I never anticipated: the feelings of my archival subjects. Given the intimate familiarity that villagers had with the people and events that I had read about, these feelings were quite strong. How I interpreted my data suddenly mattered in that it could affect my standing with my informants. Moreover, mine and my research assistants’ relative power vis-à-vis my research subjects’ relative power within the community.

While this interdisciplinary methodology created tensions, it also enabled me to conduct my research with greater sensitivity and precision. For one, the perspective I gained in the field enabled me to return to the archive with a better understanding about the authority and judgment that I imposed on the documentary record. At the same time, the written texts that I collected in local, regional, and national archives and libraries enabled me to conduct much more informed ethnography and oral history in my field sites. I found this useful first in simply helping my informants to remember. For instance, whenever informants told me they could not recall having seen or heard of a given situation, I could readily counter with a historically specific case to jog their memory.

This approach also enabled me to draw important conclusions about the ways that my subjects construct and employ historical memory. In applying this approach, anthropologist Thomas Abercrombie discovered what he has called “structured forgetting,” a phenomenon in which informants choose to erase a particular memory from their collective consciousness in order to better shape the community’s historical narrative.[8] More often than not, though, I was impressed with the degree of historical accuracy that my informants exhibited, or at least the extent to which their recollections matched my findings from the written historical record. To this effect, my findings support Joanne Rappaport’s observation about the primacy of historical memory in Andean community identity.[9] Thus, while engagement with written material can be a useful strategy, it is not the be-all and end-all of historical research. As Florencia Mallon argues, such privileging of written sources overlooks “a whole series of dimensions within human history.”[10] Interdisciplinary analysis thus allows us to appreciate the degree to which local histories of domination and conflict shape macropolitical developments.

From THE CORNER OF THE LIVING: AYACUCHO ON THE EVE OF THE SHINING PATH INSURGENCY by Miguel La Serna.  Copyright © 2012 by the University of North Carolina Press.  Used by permission of the publisher.

Miguel La Serna is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book, The Corner of the Living: Ayacucho on the Eve of the Shining Path Insurgency, is now available from the University of North Carolina Press. On Friday, May 25 at 10:15 AM join First Peoples in celebrating the publication of Dr. LaSerna’s book during a meet-and-greet in our booth (104) at the Latin American Studies Association annual meeting.




Abercrombie, Thomas.  Pathways of Memory and Power: Ethnography and History among an Andean People. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Axel, Brian Keith, ed. From the Margins: Historical Anthropologies and Its Futures. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003.

Dirks, Nicholas B. “Annals of the Archive: Ethnographic Notes on the Sources of History.” In From the Margins : Historical Anthropologies and Its Futures, edited by Brian Keith Axel. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003.

La Serna, “Murió comiendo rata: Power Relations in Pre-Sendero Ayacucho, Peru, 1940-1983.” A Contracorriente 9:2 (Winter 2012).

Mallon, Florencia. Courage Tastes of Blood: The Mapuche Community of Nicolás Ailío and the Chilean State, 1906-2001. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.

Rappaport, The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Columbian Andes. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.



[1] Historical anthropology, of course, is nothing new. See, for example, Axel, From the Margins.

[2] Dirks, “Annals of the Archive,” 47.

[3] Ibid., 48.

[4] For more on Humberto Azcarza and his conflicts with the Chuschino peasantry, see La Serna, “Murió comiendo rata.”

[5] This is a pseudonym.

[6] Field notes, Chuschi (26 July 2007).

[7] For examples, see essays in Axel, From the Margins. A notable exception is Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood.

[8] Abercrombie, Pathways of Memory, 117.

[9] Rappaport, The Politics of Memory, 12, 16.

[10] Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood, 232.

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