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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Professor discusses Native Americans’ bloody history with United States

Published: January 28, 2011
Section: News

Fred Hoxie, a professor of history from the University of Illinois-Urbana gave a lecture Thursday that highlighted the political participation of Native Americans in their long, bloody history with the American nation.

Entitled “Word Warriors: Native American Political Activists and the American State, 1776-2000,” the lecture explained various thematic patterns he has seen in the history of the relations between Native Americans and the United States government, while also weaving in descriptions of chapters in his anticipated book on the same topic.

During Professor Hoxie’s introduction it was noted that it was not his first time being in Olin-Sang.

Hoxie both completed his undergraduate work at Brandeis, and received his doctorate from Brandeis. Prior to taking up his position at the University of Illinois, Hoxie taught at both Antioch College and Northwestern University.

He is an expert on American Indian history, both as a narrative of the people themselves and as a chronology of the interactions between an indigenous people and an ever-expanding United States society.

He has written three books and numerous articles on such topics.

Early on in his lecture he addressed the way in which we view Native Americans as a society.

He pointed out how poorly this culture is understood today.

Hoxie described one of his common habits when teaching Native American History survey classes.

“I begin with an opening exercise, which is I ask students on a three by five card to write down the names of three Indians and I say this is just a way to sort of inventory what’s in your head when someone says that. And for 30 years I’ve gotten three-now four-names, which are Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and, thanks to Walt Disney we now get Pocahontas.”

Hoxie used an anecdote to Segway into his goal for his new book, which he describes as “to promote new people [for] that list” and in doing so to create “a new lens for thinking about native people in the United States.”

The major theme in both his lecture and in his book is that of a steadily growing presence of Native Americans in United States political affairs.

He traced the early era in which Indians were treated more as foreign dignitaries who were given formal treaties of alliance, to the point at which the treaties became less ceremonial and more of a contractual means through which the Native Americans could survive.

He explained the gradual integration of Indians into American society, specifically through gaining political recognition in courts, and comes to the conclusion at the end, that “over the past two centuries the United States has become an Indian country in the sense that it is no longer possible to define American Indians-as the Supreme Court did in 1913-as a separate people ‘simple, uninformed and inferior.’”

Each chapter of Hoxie’s book is a story of its own, focusing on a specific character in the narrative of Native American activism.

For example, one chapter concerns James McDonald, the first Indian lawyer who campaigned in favor of the Choctaw people in the 1820s as President Jackson ordered the Native Americans of the Mississippi area to leave.

After gaining victory for the Choctaws, the people came to the general consensus that in order to survive they would have to integrate into United States society, but that they would still attempt to retain their culture.

The speaker was met with many questions at the end of his lecture, one of which concerned the possible parallels between African-American and feminist activism. At the end of the event, a graduate student in the audience described that Hoxie’s book could be useful in indicating these parallels.

“I think a lot of folks who study some of those other movements would be surprised by the parallels…there’s a Red Power movement, alongside the Black Power movement, so I think his book maybe has the opportunity to open some people’s eyes to some of the similarities.”