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American Indian Population Recovery in the Twentieth Century.

American Indian Population Recovery in the Twentieth Century. By Nancy Shoemaker (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999. xiii plus l56pp. $39.95).

In this slim volume author Shoemaker discusses the demographic recovery of the Indian population of the United Stares after 1900. Following sustained contact with Europeans after 1492, the native populations experienced drastic declines in number. Some nations disappeared altogether. Some native populations survived, and recovered during the twentieth-century. Today there are some two million Indians or Indian wanabes.

Shoemaker discusses general trends in twentieth-century Indian demography, but then offers five more detailed case studies. The nations she examines are the Seneca from western New York, Cherokee, Navajo, Red Lake Band of Ojibways from Minnesota, and the Yakama from the Pacific Northwest. Shoemaker's analysis relies primarily on the 1900 manuscript United States census, and United States Census Bureau public use samples from the 1940 to 1980 United States censuses. She also makes some use of other records, such as population counts prepared before 1900 and Bureau of Indian Affairs records. The author includes a methodological appendix at the end of the book.

Shoemaker focuses primarily on fertility, although she does give some attention to mortality. As a reference point the author compares Indian demographic patterns to general patterns for whites and blacks, with the data drawn from the public use samples. Shoemaker finds that fertility rates differed among the five groups studied, as did levels of integration into mainstream American society. Mortality rates dropped with the control of such contagions as smallpox, but tuberculosis continued to be a major problem that retarded population growth. Slow recovery began after about 1900, and a boom followed World War 11. Participation of Indians in the market economy and migration to the cities were contributing factors. One methodological issue that Shoemaker addresses well is the surge in the reported Indian population in the last couple of censuses, as people were allowed to make self-declarations. Many, who were categorized differently under the older system of identification by the census-taker, came out of th e closet and claimed to be Indian. This skewed demographic patterns for the general Indian population.

Shoemaker's book is useful because it has highlighted the important issue of Indian population recovery. However, I have a number of reservations about the book. Shoemaker relies heavily on United States census materials, and largely discounts the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs because, as she claims, these records are flawed. Assertions made to justify not using a set of documents always catch my attention. Even flawed records are useful, and different methods can be used to massage information from them. Late nineteenth-century BIA reports may be deficient, but what about records from the twentieth-century? I have looked some BIA records from the 1930s, and they do contain useful information. Could other methods have been adopted to make use of the BIA records, such as family reconstitution from a representative sample taken from tribal rolls?

The individual tribal histories are useful, and Shoemaker does discuss some cultural practices such as abortion and infanticide that would modify demographic patterns. However, I found the background information on the five tribes weak, as well as information on social, cultural and economic changes during the twentieth-century. Moreover, in discussing demographic patterns in the twentieth-century Shoemaker glosses over important issues that are directly relevant to the topic: For example, economic patterns, such as the shift from traditional to wage economy. Shoemaker discusses this in general terms, but not in much detail for the specific tribes. Could twentieth-century BIA records have provided additional information on economic activities? Shoemaker superficially addresses such issues as poverty on reservations, suicide rates, alcoholism and the consequences of alcohol consumption, and accident rates. She presents poverty figures based on income, but does not delve beneath the surface to illuminate what poverty, especially on the reservations, really meant and means. Life expectancy figures (Table 1.2, p 9) for the Indian population nation-wide strike me as being too optimistic when viewed within the context of the serious problems found on many reservations.

From a technical perspective, Shoemaker's use of census materials is sound and solid. This book is a good example of how to use quantitative sources, such as censuses. However, it is not good history. Quantitative methods should identify patterns, but then the historian should spend more time explaining what the patterns really mean. The qualitative discussion based on quantitative data is absent here, and Shoemaker should use social, cultural, and economic issues only to further illuminate the quantitative data. It is clear that Shoemaker knows how to manipulate the numbers, but has failed to go further. By focusing heavily on the numbers, she has fallen short of presenting a useful explanation of why the Indian population recovered and grew during the twentieth-century.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Jackson, Robert H.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2000
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