Resurrection of Red Reign

A Review of The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence
by Stephen Cornell

Author Biography

Stephen Cornell was born in 1948. Cornell has a Ph.D. degree from the University of Chicago. He taught at Harvard University, and then moved to UCSD in 1989, where he is director of the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. Cornell is a professor of sociology and public administration policy, and the co-founder of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. He continues to co-direct this project.

The history of Native Americans can be written as plainly as any other history. However, Stephen Cornell wrote The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence “with interpretive subtlety and analytical power”.1 Cornell reflects upon the struggles of American Indians politically, economically, and socially. The lives of American Indians were greatly changed when the Europeans came to America. The Return of the Native depicts what the American Indians went through as they struggled to regain their power. Throughout his book, Cornell incisively describes each time period in American Indian history. The history of the Native Americans can be divided into four parts: the beginning of American Indian decline, the revolution of the tribes, the political resurgence of American Indians, and the return of native power. The Return of the Native follows the path of Indian history from power, to no power, and back to power again. Cornell begins his book with the first contact between Europeans and Native Americans. When the Europeans first came to America they greatly relied on the natives. Cornell states that the European-American trade was based around fur trade. As producers of the furs, the Indians were at the center of the fur trade. This period of time, the mid 16th to late 18th centuries, was known as the “market period."2 The market period consisted of voluntary incorporation into the fur markets controlled by Indian labor and consumption. The Indians were incorporated into a mercantile economy, in which the furs provided much of the money necessary for economic expansion and variation. The manifestation of trade profits pulled Europeans across to the western mountains and established posts later became settlements. By the 1820s, however, trapping became the most common method of producing pelts. Cornell also brings up that Indian labor began to be replaced by European labor. The Indians relied most on competitive politics for Indian political power. Once French influence fell in North America, the “competitive politics that had been the basis of Indian political power” ended as well.3 The Native Americans lost large portions of their land due to the Revolutionary War and Louisiana Purchase. New lands gained by the English became land for non-Indian settlement and economic endeavor. Indians’ resources were the building blocks for the rise of the United States in economic power. However, Cornell mentions that the Americans had a problem— “‘The Indian Problem’: how to gain access to Indian resources.”4 In order to gain access to the Native American resources, reservations were formed. Native Americans were taken off their resource-rich land and placed on reservations. The new American policy towards Indians was to civilize the Indians. Assimilation, the integration of Indians into non-Indian society, was also a goal. On the reservations, jobs and wages were controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian political autonomy and economic self-sufficiency declined since the beginning of the fur trade.

In chapters five through seven Cornell emphasizes the changes that the Indian tribes went through. As the Native Americans began to notice that they were losing their power, they began transforming their tribes. One response, pointed out by Cornell, was indianization: the growth of supratribal consciousness and constituency that led to the emergence of “American Indians” as politically self-conscious population.5 Another response to exclusion was tribalization, the process by which tribes came to be political organisms and the basis of Indian identities. The reservations reinforced tribal identities, created new ones, and allowed already existing alliances to continue. Established in 1934, the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) stated that “any Indian tribe, or tribes, residing on the same reservation, shall have the right to organize for its common welfare.”6 The IRA and the Indian New Deal granted Indians a limited, yet, enlarged degree of control over their dealings and destinies. However, by formalizing and advancing the alliance process, the IRA provoked subtribal communities and constituencies. Tribalism began to mean more as a foundation for assertion of individual and group rights. The Society of American Indians (SAI) was founded in 1911. The SAI was the “earliest major political manifestation of an emergent supratribal consciousness and… as an indicative of the limits supratribalism faced in the early decades of the twentieth century.”7 The twentieth century saw the gradual emergence and growth of a supratribal American Indian consciousness.

The next section of the book highlights the political resurgence of the Indians. Cornell states that the Native Americans responded to their limited political power by integrating themselves in the non-Indian workforce. Indians seeked wage jobs off of the reservations. From 1950 to 1960, the urban Indian population increased by one hundred and sixty percent. Urbanization caused a varied Native American population in the cities. The Indians benefited from large-scale organization to attain resources and command attention. The 1960s and 1970s saw rapid growth of a national Indian media directed towards the Indian audience. Cornell believes that the media helped to greaten the extent of Indian political awareness beyond the boundaries of tribe or region. Long-term residence in cities was only temporary for Native Americans; they either eventually returned to the reservation or they interspred their periods of living in the city and in the reservation. The natives did not “necessarily leave their world to go to the city- only certain aspects of it.”8 Cornell says that supratribalism represented an enlargement of the Indian identity system and provided a new basis for political action. Although the Native Americans wanted to identify themselves, not all of them had the same goals. Indians had several different kinds of goals: reformative-integrative, reformative-segregative, transformation-integrative, and transformation-segregative. In 1960, the Economic Opportunity Act was established, providing more federal funds to Indian nations. Cornell states that this caused the emergence of urban Indian activism. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Native Americans pursued new rights within American society. Realists and radicals helped the organization of Indian affairs. Since the 1960s, Indians had gained a great influence over decisions of their lands and resources. The Native Americans found alliances to help them regain political power. During the Civil Rights campaign in the 1960s, Indians received minority support. Collective action required “organization: a structure of relationships among group members that facilitates common participation in a sustained, focused political effort.”9 The 1950s through the 1970s brought the rise of Red Power and self-sufficiency.

The last three chapters of Cornell’s book explain the power that the Indians gained. Throughout the 1900s the Native Americans had fought for political rights. By the 1960s Indians were elected in off reservation posts of local government. Cornell states that the 1970s portrayed a political movement. Organized political action was only available to those integrated into the American society. This political movement opened the doors for expression of Indian political interests. From the 1950s up to the 1970s “the activist movement turned increasingly to extrainstitutional action: mass protests, civil disobedience, land seizures, building occupations…” and some even became violent.10 By the 1970s the remaining Indian lands were resource rich once again. Some reservations became dependent on income from natural resources. In the 1970s the new incorporative phase emerged. This phase, as Cornell mentioned, involved the incorporation of Indian resources into the American economy. However, “incorporation is being pursued as much as possible through cooperative arrangements instead of coercion…”11 The new Indian politics set an arena for action and political change. The latter half of the 1900s gave birth to a political resurgence. As time goes on Indian and White relations will once again be created by the Indians.

In his book, Cornell examines and clarifies the aspects of the relations between Indians and Whites. Cornell states that Native American actions shaped contemporary Indian and White Relations, but his thesis is true only to an extent. At first, the Native Americans controlled the trade and economy of the Whites, regaining some control during the activist movement. However, the Whites (Europeans) did rely greatly on the Indians at first, but later they gained control and shaped their relations with the Indians. It seems that the Whites had more control over the relations with the Indians. Cornell assumes that the Indians had the greater impact in shaping the relations. Cornell uses the words of Native Americans that he interviewed as a basis for his book. Even though, Cornell uses people as his primary sources, he only receives the points of view of the Indians and not the other side. Of course, the Native Americans would say that they are responsible for shaping the relations between Indians and White; it makes them sound like the stronger people. Historiography mostly likely influenced Cornell as well. Cornell wrote his book sometime in the 1980s, right after the Native American political resurgence occurred. The Native Americans that he interviewed had just recently come out of that political resurgence. Also, there was most likely a lot of news and propaganda about the political resurgence at the time. Cornell’s thesis and point of view are based on the first hand accounts of Native Americans and facts. Dan Nemtusiak from Illinois State University read and critiqued Stephen Cornell’s book, The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence. Nemtusiak states that the book “examines the turbulent history of the American Indian and attempts to explain the recent political resurgence of the Indians.”12 In his review, Nemtusiak summarizes the book as Cornell wrote it. Nemtusiak writes that Cornell’s book made him realize how hard it had been for the Indians politically, Nemtusiak claims that Cornell effectively sent out that message. Nemtusiak does have a complaint about the book, however. He says that it was not in chronological order, and therefore, found it hard to follow at times. Nemtusiak says that he agreed with Cornell’s arguments, ideas, and opinions. Also, Nemtusiak mentions that he found The Return of the Native to be very informative. He states that the book was not very debatable either, since Cornell used a historical tone throughout the book.

Heather Wileaver, also of Illinois State University, reviewed The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence. Wileaver states that “the majority of Cornell’s book is devoted to retelling the history of Indian-White relations and the transformations that came about as a result of these interactions.”13 Wileaver claims that Cornell linked the historical changes in Native American economic, political, social, and cultural organizations to the nature of Indian activism in the 1960s and 1970s. She also describes the content in the book in her review. Wileaver says that the entire history that Cornell mentions leads up to his modern period (the 1960s to 1988). For the most part, Wileaver agrees with Cornell’s opinions.

The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence by Stephen Cornell is about the history of Indian-White relations. Cornell uses very accurate sources to find information about the Native Americans, such as interviews and library research. The book covers just about every aspect of the history of Native American and European relations. Cornell takes you all the way back to the first contact between Indians and Europeans, and then all the way to the present (1988). All of the history that Cornell mentions before the contemporary period leads up to the American Indian political resurgence in the modern period. The Return of the Native is very informative and makes you realize what the Indians went through to regain political power. The tone in which Cornell represents his book is historical, thus making it difficult to doubt any of his ideas or opinions. However, because Cornell wrote the book right after the American Indian political resurgence he may have been influenced by the enthusiasm of the period. As Dan Nemtusiak mentioned, Cornell wrote out of chronological order, making it hard to follow the timeline. The book, being out of chronological order, is confusing at times when trying to figure out what came first. This, however was the only difficulty with reading the book. The book was written with a lot of knowledge and power. Cornell provides the reader with enough information to understand the American Indian political resurgence. Cornell is able to express the importance of this remarkable American Indian resurrection. Overall, Cornell’s book is an excellent history book.

The American Indian political resurgence was a turning point in American history both politically, economically, and slightly culturally. As Cornell states in his book, the Indian political resurgence consisted of an activist movement and a political movement. The activist movement bore mass protests, civil disobedience, building seizures, and much more. The political movement involved Native Americans gaining political control over themselves. Politically the Indians gained power by being elected into local governments off of the reservations and controlling affairs and destinies of their lands. Economically, during the 1960s and 1970s the Indian lands once again became resource rich. The United States wanted to incorporate the Indian resources into the economy. Culturally, supratribal consciousness arose. The Native Americans wanted to identify themselves. The political resurgence period of Native Americans was an enormous landmark in history.

The political resurgence period of Native Americans changed previously held values and practices. Now that the Native Americans had regained some political power they were making most of the decisions of their lands and resources, rather than the Americans controlling them. Also, the Native American economy improved as they gained political power. In order to identify themselves, the Indians began to continue traditions and languages passed on by their ancestors. In America, today, there are still a few distinct Native American tribes on reservations. These Native Americans still try to pass down ancestral values and traditions to their children. The tribes that are still around today have their own land which they still regulate themselves. The American Indians today are able to create their own laws on the reservations. Ever since this era, Native Americans have been given more independence. The Indians can now control their land and people in what ever manner they wish. The political resurgence era of Native Americans has left an impact on America even until today.

Stephen Cornell wrote The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence about the relations between Indians and Whites. Cornell includes specific facts and details derived from research and interviews. The book takes you through the timeline of Indian and White relations. The political resurgence of American Indians was a very important point in history, changing the lives of both American Indians and Whites. Cornell leads up to the point in which the Native American turn around the political sphere. The 1960s and 1970s saw the rebirth of Native American power, Red Power.

review by Gabriela Ganddini

  1. Skocpol, Theda. Harvard University, 1.
  2. Cornell, Stephen. The Return of the Native: American Indian Political Resurgence. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 1988, 12.
  3. Cornell, Stephen 27
  4. Cornell, Stephen 40
  5. Cornell, Stephen 72
  6. Cornell, Stephen 92
  7. Cornell, Stephen 115
  8. Cornell, Stephen 144
  9. Cornell, Stephen 173
  10. Cornell, Stephen 197
  11. Cornell, Stephen 208
  12. Nemtusiak, Dan. “Review of the Return of the Native.” Illinois State University. March 9, 1995. 1
  13. Wileaver, Heather. “Review: Return of the Native.” Illinois State University. March 9, 1995. 1

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