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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Indians in the United States and Canada: A Comparative History
Roger L Nichols

(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 199 )
383pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 57.00; ISBN 0-8032-3341-8.



This book is an abridged history of Indian-White conflict in the United States and Canada from the early 16th Century to the 1990s. Nichols looks at the myriad European contestants - Dutch, Spanish, English and French - who vied for Indian lands, allies, souls, and resources. He, or course, also looks at the myriad Indian nations who allied themselves with competing European powers. Yet despite shrewd tribal negotiations and manipulations of the invading Europeans, all Indians ultimately lost a lot of their sovereignty and power.

The book is divided into 11 chapters along with maps, notes, and a selected bibliography. The chapters span the 500 centuries of Anglo expansion in the New World:

Chapter 1 Indians Meet the Spanish, French and Dutch 1513-1701 Chapter 2 Indians and English near the Chesapeake, 1570s-1670s Chapter 3 Indians and English in New England, 1600-1670s Chapter 4 Trade, Diplomacy, Warfare and Acculturatrion, 1670s-1750s Chapter 5 Striving for Independence, 1750-1790s Chapter 6 Old Threats, New Resolve, 1795-1820s Chapter 7 Cultural Persistence, Physical Retreat, 1820s-1860s Chapter 8 Societies Under Siege, 1860s-1890 Chapter 9 Surviving Marginalization, 1890s-1920 Chapter 10 Change, Depression and War, 1920s-1945 Chapter 11 Tribes and the Modern State, 1945-1990s

Nichols has an ambitious research agenda: he chooses to write a comparative history which spans over 500 years. He does not adopt a particular theoretical orientation to tell his story. Rather, the emphasis is on getting the facts straight, retelling 'what happened', and making comparisons to what happened in both the US and Canada. He also makes some comparisons between regions: however, the reader has to draw some of those comparisons out of his data. For example, he discusses the Spanish and Indian encounter in the Southeast and the Southwest. Why were Spanish objectives foiled in the Southeast yet seemingly successful in the Southwest? The summary and conclusions chapter should be broadened to include such comparisons along with some sort of unifying theoretical perspective as to what happened to the Native People on the North American continent and why.

Nichols does a good job of synthesizing an amazing amount of material about so many cultural regions over such a long expanse of time. Where he falls short is in cramming so much history into just a few pages of text. Nichols also relies upon just a few pages of text. Nichols also relies upon just a few bibliographic sources (well-chosen but not complete) for each cultural region. Further, not all regions (e.g., the Northwest Coast, California, the Great Basin) are given equal weighting.

Despite these short-comings, the book is highly recommended. He is able to present complicated regional histories in a readable style; Nichols provides a much-needed 'scorecard' to figure out who is allied to whom and why at any given time (see for example, his discussion of Southeastern politics in the 17th and 18th centuries on pages 91-107). He also examines the different missionaries, their styles and Indian perceptions of them. He looks at European, then American and Canadian education and legal systems and their impact on the native peoples. He provides a good summary of legislative and other developments during the 19th and 20th century (e.g., US Dawes Act, US Termination Act, US and Canadian Indian participation in WWI and II, Canadian perceptions of its native people, pan tribalism etc.). Overall, I would recommend the book as a concise history to Indian-white relations in North America.


Laurie Weinstein,
Western Connecticut State University




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