Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics

By Roppolo, Kimberly | Plains Anthropologist, August 2004 | Go to article overview
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Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics


Roppolo, Kimberly, Plains Anthropologist


Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics. LORETTA FOWLER. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2002.xxvii + 356 pp., photos, tables, bibliography, $55.00 (Cloth; ISBN: 0-8032-2013-8).

Quite simply, Loretta Fowler's Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: CheyenneArapaho Politics is a major contribution not only to the historical and contemporary study of two specific Plains cultures, but also to Native Studies in general. With fastidious detail from archival research and lucid writing, Fowler more than proves her point-the quagmire that is Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal politics today arises from the genocidal incident of Sand Creek, their subsequent removal to the reservation, their interactions with the federal government and the legal documents and policies that have guided those interactions, and a long history of racism and discrimination in Western Oklahoma. Specifically, Fowler traces the movement from tribalism to individualism forced on the tribes and how the internalizing of dominant culture values with little to no means of achieving dominant culture ideals has demoralized Cheyenne and Arapaho people and put them in a situation where they demean each other in attempts to gain some measure of self-worth through one of the only venues available in the tribally-controlled area-tribal politics.

Fowler begins her argument by offering a thorough examination of Cheyenne and Arapaho cultures shortly after the tribes' forced relocation and confinement to Western Oklahoma, only five years after Sand Creek and one year after the Washita massacre. She explores the kinship, band, society/ lodge, and chieftainship systems and how these social orders are intricately tied to the tribes' traditional ideals of sharing and of placing the group's needs above those of the individual. She shows the tribes' resistance to the assimilation imposed upon them by the government and the federal Indian agents acting on its behalf, particularly through the maintenance of the band/headsmen system in the transition from hunting/gathering to other forms of sustenance, from the distribution of government rations ordered by treaty to the early efforts at farming and at freight-hauling, most often organized by headsmen and with remuneration going to band members through him. After land-allotment, this resistance continued through the acts of collective camping and through gathering in camps for social dances and ceremonies, though the Indian agents actively worked to discourage such communal behavior, even using the withholding of rations as a means of punishment. Fowler shows how the land loss that was a result of allotment worked against this system, encouraging a dependence on capital and further impoverishing Cheyennes and Arapahos, affecting the social order by severing the economic ties between chiefs and headsmen and their people, as they no longer had goods to redistribute. Also, income became the property of the individual and the nuclear, if somewhat more extended than in mainstream culture, family. She further shows how the US government diminished the authority of the chiefs and effectively implanted the current political system by refusing to negotiate any further with delegations and insisting that a more "democratic" system be put in place.

In addition to setting up this historical context, Fowler traces the composition and actions of the business committee and tribal council government that arose out of the two constitutions that have governed the tribe at the insistence of the US government and shows how the Self-Determination Act, along with other factors, have created a situation that has been continuously litigious in both tribal and federal court for over thirty years. She effectively proves that the animosity in the tribes regarding both the official and unofficial actions of business committee members arises most often out of the perceived need of constituents and individual business members to undermine others in order to achieve self-worth for themselves.

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