Documents of Native American Political Development: 1500s to 1933

Documents of Native American Political Development: 1500s to 1933

Documents of Native American Political Development: 1500s to 1933

Documents of Native American Political Development: 1500s to 1933


The arrival of European and Euro-American colonizers in the Americas brought not only physical attacks against Native American tribes, but also further attacks against the sovereignty of these Indian nations. Though the violent tales of the Trail of Tears, Black Hawk's War, and the Battle of Little Big Horn are taught far and wide, the political structure and development of Native American tribes, and the effect of American domination on Native American sovereignty, have been greatly neglected.

This book contains a variety of primary source and other documents--traditional accounts, tribal constitutions, legal codes, business councils, rules and regulations, BIA agents reports, congressional discourse, intertribal compacts--written both by Natives from many different nations and some non-Natives, that reflect how indigenous peoples continued to exercise a significant measure of self-determination long after it was presumed to have been lost, surrendered, or vanquished. The documents are arranged chronologically, and Wilkins provides brief, introductory essays to each document, placing them within the proper context. Each introduction is followed by a brief list of suggestions for further reading.

Covering a fascinating and relatively unknown period in Native American history, from the earliest examples of indigenous political writings to the formal constitutions crafted just before the American intervention of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, this anthology will be an invaluable resource for scholars and students of the political development of indigenous peoples the world over.


I FIRST BEGAN RESEARCHING native politics, history, and law in 1978 as an apprentice at the North Carolina Department of Archives and History. I was charged with investigating and writing reports on the political, genealogical, and territorial histories of the Coharie and Lumbee tribes of North Carolina. While engaged in that exciting work, I noticed that, despite the enormity of land loss, interethnic conflicts, and cultural assaults, the leadership and citizens of both of those nonfederally recognized tribes had historically found ways to retain a significant measure of self-governance. This resourcefulness had enabled them to cope fairly well within state and county systems intent on ignoring or at least marginalizing their distinctive rights as indigenous nations.

I then moved to Tucson, Arizona, in the fall of 1980 to begin my MA in political science. There I enrolled in a unique program that focused on the study of federal Indian policy, law, and treaties that had been developed by the late Vine Deloria Jr., the titan of indigenous scholars. By that time I was even more intent on understanding how and why the federal government had adopted the treaties, laws, and policies it had with regard to native nations (eastern and western). I was also eager to understand how tribal peoples had historically governed themselves before John Collier, Felix Cohen, and Nathan Margold— the Indian New Deal triumvirate—arrived on the federal scene in 1933 and, through the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934, fashioned a law that encouraged native peoples to adopt written constitutional governments.

I also wanted to know what kinds of political and institutional adaptations Indian nations had made once they had sustained contact with the foreign political entities that had intruded upon their lands and established a permanent presence. Moreover, I was intent on learning why very little had been written about the historical evolution of indigenous governance for those First Nations not known as the Iroquois Confederacy (Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora) or the Five “Civilized” Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw . . .

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