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Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory. (Book Reviews).

Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory David LaVere; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000, 292 pages

While numerous works exist on 19th century Indian removal, few deal with the way in which it affected the interaction between the tribes involved. Seeking to fill this void, David LaVere offers an engaging examination of the relationship between removed tribes from the Southeast and Southern Plains Indians in Indian Territory, starting with the process of removal to the enactment of the Curtis Act in 1898. From the title of the book to the conclusion, the thesis remains clear throughout: the Southern Plains and Southeastern Indians, who were removed to Indian territory in the first half of the 19th century, failed to reach a middle ground in their dealings with each other. Each group believed in the superiority of their own culture, retained their tribal identity, and rejected the federal government's assertion that they all fell into the single racial category of "Indians." LaVere points out that the tendency of the government to lump all Native American tribes into this single category obscured the multitud e of differences that have historically existed among the native inhabitants of North America.

After a brief examination of the background pertaining to removal and the composition of tribal cultures, the next seven chapters deal with the direct impact of removal on tribal interaction. In the introduction, LaVere explains the centrality of the mode of production in shaping the culture of a given society. The agrarian culture of Southeastern tribes, which evolved after 700 AD, contrasted markedly with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Southern Plains Indians. Ironically, while the presence of Euro-American culture reinforced the agrarian society of the Southeastern tribes, the introduction of horses on the plains enhanced the ability of nomadic Southern Plains Indians to live as hunter-gatherers. As removal forced these two groups of Indians together, conflict proved inevitable. Indeed, they viewed each other with all of the hostility and suspicion apparent between any two foreign nations in a similar position.

The tribes from the Southeast viewed their agrarian societies as civilized and more advanced, and regarded the Southern Plains Indians as savages whom they feared. The Southern Plains Indians, on the other hand, resented the adoption of White ways by Southeastern Indians as much as they did the encroachment on their land. While the federal government did not create this schism, the failure to recognize or even care about the differences that existed between Southern Plains and Southeastern tribes created a hostile environment for both groups. And this environment was the responsibility of the United States. After all, as LaVere points out, Southeastern tribes would likely not have come into contact with the tribes on the Southern Plains were it not for removal.

After dealing with the first hostile encounters between the Southeastern tribes and the Southern Plains Indians, which were characterized by numerous conflicts, LaVere discusses how White culture served to complicate the relationship between these two groups. The destruction of the buffalo and the continued encroachment of Whites on Indian land eroded the distinctions that once served to separate them, yet the schism remained. LaVere explains that even issues such as the Dawes Act of 1887 and the Curtis Act of 1898, which should have brought these two groups of Indians together, failed to foster a permanent sense of commonality. Instead, the tribes seemed more isolated from each other than before, as each struggled to hang on to as much of their culture as they could. While LaVere identifies the modes of production as the main basis for the lack of commonality between the cultures of removed Indians and those already living on the Southern Plains, those differences persisted well after the erosion of this ini tial difference.

In the introduction, LaVere hints that no pan-Indian identity ever developed among these Indian tribes, yet the book stops at the end of the 19th century. This cannot help but leave the reader wondering how LaVere would explain 20th century manifestations of pan-Indianness as reflected in the boarding school experience and the American Indian Movement. By no means should the author be criticized for failing to deal with a topic beyond the scope of his work. However, if the end suggestion is that no meaningful pan-Indian identity ever emerges among these tribes, then 20th century articulations of Indian unity warrant some attention.

Minor criticisms aside, LaVere does a nice job of weaving together secondary literature with personal correspondence, newspapers, diaries, government reports, and interviews from a variety of archival sources. This thesis-driven book is ideal for an undergraduate survey of Native American history. It covers a lengthy period of time and the arguments are clearly laid out and easy to follow.

In recent years many scholars have attempted to write a Native American history that is not dominated by White voices and White perceptions of Native Americans. To this end, LaVere succeeds admirably.
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Author:Janda, Sarah Eppler
Publication:The Social Science Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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