Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority

Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority

Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority

Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978: Symbols in Crises of Authority


The Northern Arapahoes of the Wind River Reservation contradict many of the generalizations made about political change among native plains people. Loretta Fowler explores how, in response to the realities of domination by Americans, the Arapahoes have avoided serious factional divisions and have succeeded in legitimizing new authority through the creation and use of effective political symbols.


Loretta Fowler's Arapahoe Politics, 1851-1978 is an outstanding contribution to the field of political anthropology, and to our knowledge of Plains Indians in the historic period. It is clear from her account that the Northern Arapahoes have made the most successful adjustment to white culture of any Plains tribe, and how it was done has important lessons, both for other Indian groups and for the U.S. government and its agencies.

When Dr. Fowler went to the Wind River Reservation in the late 1960s, she was primarily interested in studying the contemporary economic and political organization of the Arapahoes, and their relations with their Eastern Shoshone neighbors, but she gradually discovered that Arapahoe history served as a charter for the decisions in the present, and set out to combine fieldwork and ethnohistory in a highly productive way. This is ethnohistory at its best.

The organization is in terms of "political history, 1851-1964" and "politics today, 1965-1978," and within these two parts, is largely chronological, beginning with the role of the Arapahoes in the Plains warfare of the 1850s and ending with the current reservation situation. in contrast to other Plains tribes, the Northern Arapahoes have managed to avoid serious factional divisions and particularly those between the generations, and have been able to maintain a united front against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies of government.

The Arapahoes, along with their close kinsmen, the Gros Ventres, are among the handful of Plains tribes with an age-grade social structure, in which age-sets, or peer groups, go through a series of ceremonial age-graded societies which include all the males, and in which ceremonial knowledge is acquired. Dr. Fowler shows how this age structure . . .

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