American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity

American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity

American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity

American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity

Synopsis

Throughout history, Indian leaders and their methods of leadership have both perplexed and fascinated other Americans. Because war chiefs played leading roles in the confrontations with whites, it is they who most often emerge from the pages of history. But there were many other leaders who sought security for their tribesmen in accommodation or friendship with the Anglo-Americans. Indeed, as the twelve subjects whose careers are examined in this collection illustrate, Indian political leadership has manifested itself in a wide variety of patterns.

Spanning the period from colonial times to the present, the essays are devoted to Old Briton, Joseph Brant (or, Thayendenegea), Alexander McGillivray, Red Bird, John Ross, Satanta, Washakie, Sitting Bull, Quanah Parker, Dennis Bushyhead, Carlos Montezuma, and Peter MacDonald.

Excerpt

Throughout history, Indian leaders and their methods of leadership have both perplexed and fascinated other Americans. When the first Europeans arrived on the eastern shore of what is now the United States, they encountered Indian people indigenous to the region and immediately sought out tribal leaders through whom problems in Indian-white relations could be mediated. But the colonists arrived in the New World burdened with the cultural baggage of the old World. A product of the Renaissance, the colonists were citizens of newly emerging nation-states, and they assumed that Native American political institutions reflected a similar pattern of centralized power, kings or princes, and royal lineages. Therefore, they referred to "Indian nations," Indian potentates (King Phillip is a good example), and Indian "princesses" such as Pocahontas.

Native American peoples of the eastern seaboard, however, were not organized into nation-states. Most tribes were loose confederations of people speaking the same language, sharing a similar way of life, belonging to common clans, and tracing their origin back to an identical beginning. Most tribes were scattered among several villages and the political ties between these settlements were usually tenuous. Only rarely did tribal leaders emerge who represented the entire tribe. More often, each village or group of villages was led by village leaders who attempted to defend the interests of their particular community. Therefore, part of a tribe could go to war while another part remained at peace. Treaties or agreements signed by leaders from some villages were often ignored or opposed by residents of others. Such a loose political structure bewildered Europeans and created confusion in relationships between the two races.

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