American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly // Review

Article excerpt

American Indian Treaties: The History of a Political Anomaly Frances Paul Prucha Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. xvi + 562. N.p. (cloth) Reviewer: James Youngblood Henderson Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan

This intriguing book about treaties is both comprehensive and disappointing. It is a comprehensive chronology of treaties from a colonizer's historical policy perspective. It is apologetic for the United States' implementation of treaty promises. But it is incomprehensible from a rule-of-law perspective.

The distance between rule-of-law and historical construction of treaties is clear in this book. The rule-of-law asserts that any ambiguities in treaties are to be interpreted as the Indians would have understood them, but this esteemed historian is content with exploring the other side of the treaties, the so-called, national "white perspective" (pp. xiii-xvi). This is most disappointing, since the colonizer's perspective is well known and has been rejected in the 20th century by the federal courts. These duelling constructions are evident throughout the book, resulting in an unbalanced assessment.

Another conceptual bias arises from what the author calls the "white perspective." That is, the book is based on the assumption that treaties with indigenous people are politically anomalous. This is the American colonizer perspective, and it is propaganda. The fact is that, around the world, treaties with indigenous polities are the norm, not the anomaly. The concept of political anomaly is the apologetic context allowing latter-day colonizers to ignore indigenous self-determination for self-interest. …