Monacans and Miners: Native American and Coal Mining Communities in Appalachia

By Kiffmeyer, Thomas | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Monacans and Miners: Native American and Coal Mining Communities in Appalachia


Kiffmeyer, Thomas, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Monacans and Miners: Native American and Coal Mining Communities in Appalachia. By SAMUEL COOK. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. xviii, 330 pp. $29.95.

STUDENTS of Appalachia long have argued that the region's diversity precludes any easy, comprehensive characterizations. Nevertheless, these same scholars, many times, apply a single interpretive framework when they analyze the mountains' people and issues. Samuel Cook's Monacans and Miners highlights the ethnic variety of Appalachia and, more importantly, employs both the colonialism and dependency models to his study of two disparate mountain counties: Amherst County, Virginia, and Wyoming County, West Virginia. Cook traces the colonial process and the level of dependency in these areas and then examines the consequences of their integration into the worldwide capitalist economy. He concludes that, although both areas experienced similar progressions, the net results were different. While Wyoming County remains an internal colony, Amherst County qualifies as a peripheral region.

Though upcountry Virginia originally was inhabited by the Siouan-speaking Monacans, the English, by the early eighteenth century, had become the overlords and subjected the natives to a European social, economic, and political system that treated Indians as inferior outsiders at best and a problem that needed eradication at worst. So thorough was this domination, Cook argues, that the Monacans' very survival was dependenthence the author's assertion that colonialism and dependence are closely linked-upon the actions of European Virginia's government and people.

At the core of Cook's explanation of the colonial process in Virginia was a series of racial practices that, from the eighteenth until the late twentieth century, denied the ethnic heritage of Amherst County's indigenous population. Antebellum miscegenation laws defined Monacans not as Indians, but as free people of color. This, followed by the .Final Solution"' policy of the 1920s, which designated all natives as black, made Monacans subject to the state's many discriminatory statutes.

Interestingly, Cook cites this discrimination as the foundation upon which the Indians would build the structures necessary to break the bonds of colonialism. Reminiscent of E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, Cook argues that the Monacans experienced "ethnogenesis." In response to state and popular discrimination, natives coalesced around their ethnic heritage and relied on traditional (albeit somewhat altered) practices to ensure their survival. When the walls of Jim Crow collapsed in the late twentieth century and being Indian became "cool," the Monacans were organized and poised to influence state and local action. …

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