Category Archives: Teaching Native American History

“Five Civilized Tribes”: When and Where did the Phrase Originate?

The origins of the “Five Civilized Tribes” label for the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles has long puzzled me. I am pretty certain that I used the phrase in the Master’s thesis I wrote in the late 1980s at Cal State Long Beach.  I know that some of the historians I cited in that work did so, too. Grant Foreman published Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians in 1953, and R. S. Cotterill The Southern Indians: The Story of the Civilized Tribes Before Removal a year later, both with the University of Oklahoma Press. But what are the origins of the phrase? Who used the phrase first? When, and why, did they do so?

            I always had assumed that it originated with the opponents of Andrew Jackson’s policy of “Indian Removal” in the 1820s and 1830s. Foreman and Cotterill used the phrase in this context. Supporters of the Cherokees, and the Cherokees themselves, boldly proclaimed the progress their Nation had made on the march towards “civilization,” and used this as a strong argument for remaining upon their lands in the American southeast. The Nation’s newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, contained stories and statistics on the number of spinning wheels and oxen, and acres under cultivation, on the Nation’s lands.  No wandering savages, the Cherokees were native southerners, as “civilized” as the planter elite, and ought to be allowed to stay where they long had been. That the phrase might fit for this period seemed to make sense.

            Turns out I was wrong about that. I looked through the books on my shelves. The phrase seems to have come along well after the Cherokee removal had taken place.  I searched the Library of Congress American Memory collection. The Continental Congress received a petition from the Brothertown Indians referring to the “partly civilized tribes from the east end of Long Island,” but that’s different.  Members of the legislative and executive branches spoke frequently of the importance of “civilization” and “civilizing” the Indians, but not with specific reference to the Cherokees and their southeastern neighbors. I looked through Google Books as well, but nothing there preceded the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Indian Office records housed at the National Archives, now digitized, show that the phrase did not come into use until after the Civil War as well. The earliest newspaper article containing the phrase, according to a search of, did not appear until 1871.  A Kansas newspaper reported on a visit to the “five civilized tribes” in the Indian Territory, and fear that the region could be further inflamed by an Indian war. The second article using the phrase appeared in 1873, in Kansas, in a discussion of the “question” of Indian citizenship. It mentioned “what are called the five civilized tribes,” so named because “for the last generation they have not depended upon the chase for subsistence, but have cultivated the ground.” The way the phrase was used in these two articles make it clear that it was around earlier, but I have not determined how early.

           It does seem, however, that “Five Civilized Tribes” came into common usage during the Concentration and allotment era, as a way to contrast the “civilized” Nations relocated to the Indian Territory with their “savage” or “wild” neighbors who had to be compelled to move to reservations.  C. E. Boudinot, featured in that 1873 article, told General Sherman and others in Washington that the Board of Indian Civilization’s “concentration” policy of placing “wild Indians in the territory of the civilized Indians would be “disastrous to the civilized minority” of Indigenous peoples in the region. Americans referred to the Cherokees’ “civilization” frequently. It factored in discussions of the allotment of their land, for instance. The “civilization” of these Indigenous peoples, government policy makers asserted, made them fit candidates for allotment. They already were civilized. They knew how to work their lands. They no longer needed the antiquated nonsense that was, in Americans’ view, Indian tribal governments. Cherokees seem to have used the phrase to suggest that, indeed, they were civilized, that they had survived the trauma of removal, and they had settled in and were fine as they were. Because they were so like their white neighbors, they did not need their lands broken up and divided, and Americans could rest assured that they would not join with the hostile Plains Nations, so unlike them in so many ways. Their civilization could, in different hands, be used to argue for their dispossession or the integrity of their relocated community.

            This obviously is a cursory look at a complicated question.  But it sends home the message that it is always worth while to think about the words and phrases they use, where they come from, and why they are deployed by those who make use of them.

Historical Methods: The Carlisle School

At Geneseo, we do not offer the US and Western Civ surveys. Instead of focusing on coverage, we emphasize and teach the analytical, writing, and research skills of the discipline. All majors are required to take two sophomore seminars. The first is in research methods, the other historiography. The courses are taught by all the department faculty in an area of their specialty. This coming semester, I will be offering the research methods course on the history of American Indian boarding schools. The syllabus follows.

History 302           Fall 2023

Research: American Indian Boarding Schools      

Instructor: Michael Oberg Meeting Times: MW, 8:30-10:10, Fraser 104 Office Hours, MW 12:30-1:45, Doty 208 Email: Phone: (585)245-5730 Website and Blog:

Required Readings:             Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center.

David Wallace Adams, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928, revised edition, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2020).

 Genevieve Bell, “Telling Stories Out of School: Remembering the Carlisle Indian Industrial Schook, 1879-1918,” Ph.D diss., Stanford University, 1998 (Available on Brightspace).

  Mary Lynn Rampolla, A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 10th Edition, (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2020).

Course Description:  This section of the history department’s required course in research methods will focus on American Indian boarding schools, part of a systematic assault launched on Indigenous identity beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. There are Boarding Schools still open today.  The heyday of the Boarding School Era ran from 1879 until 1918, the years when the Carlisle Indian Industrial School operated in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Tens of thousands of young Native Americans passed through these institutions, and they played a highly significant role in shaping Native American identity today.  Over the course of the semester, you will read about these institutions, learn and apply your research skills to studying them, and produce a significant work of original, primary source research based upon the sources you will read.  Because of the availability of sources, we will focus on Carlisle, the largest of the federally-run schools.

By the end of the semester, I would like you to have improved and developed substantially in the following areas:

  •             * Your ability to write clearly, correctly, and persuasively in English * Your ability to identify, locate, and analyze secondary sources related to your research question.
  •             * Your ability to construct and advance an argument supported by primary source research.
  •             * Your ability to debate complicated historical topics verbally in a seminar setting.

Participation: I want to emphasize the importance of participation. I view my courses fundamentally as conversations and these conversations can only succeed when each person pulls his or her share of the load.  This seminar relies on your contributions, and our conversations will depend on your thoughtful inquiry and respectful exchange.  We are all here to learn, and I encourage you to join in the discussion with this in mind. Participation is more than attendance.  As you will see from the attached grading agreement, after four missed classes you will not be able to earn any grade higher than a D for the course. 

Discussion Schedule:

28 August          Introduction to the Course                          Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 1; Adams, Preface, Prologue; Oberg, “Just Kids.”

30 August          The Long Legacy of Federal Boarding Schools Reading: Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, May 2022. This is a long document. Do your best to read and digest those parts of its contents that interest you.

6 September      What Can We Know About Federal Indian Boarding Schools? Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 2; Adams, Part One; Images of the Carlisle Boarding School

11 September     What Can We Know About Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading: Adams, Part Two; Carlisle Publications (Under the “Indian School Titles” tab, click on “Carlisle Arrow, The (1908-1917)” and then click “Apply.” Read, cover to cover, any two editions of The Carlisle Arrow. Poke around through other publications as well so that you arrive at some familiarity for the sorts of public documents Carlisle produced.

13 September     What Can We Know about Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading, Adams, Part Three; Carlisle’s bureaucracy and record-keeping.

18 September     What Can We Know about Federal Indian Boarding Schools? (continued). Reading: Adams, Part 4 and Conclusion; Carlisle Student Records (Pick any Nation from that drop-down menu.  Read at least 5 student files and be prepared to talk about what you learned.  Make sure you choose student records from different years). Please provide me with a list of the students whose files you read by Sunday at noon.

20 September     Mandatory Individual Conferences                           Reading: Rampolla, Chapters 4-6.

25 September     Topic Statements and Preliminary Bibliography Due! Reading: Rampolla, Chapter 7; Brenda J. Child, “The Boarding School as Metaphor,” Journal of American Indian Education, 57 (Spring 2018), 37-57.  This article is available through JSTOR. Please download a copy, read it, and have it with you in class. Child provides the perspectives of an Indigenous historian writing about residential schools.

27 September     Research Updates:  What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates. Reading: Frank Vitale IV, “Counting Carlisle’s Casualties: Defining Student Death at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1879-1918,” American Indian Quarterly, 44 (Fall 2020), 383-414.

2 October          Mandatory Individual Conferences

4 October          Setting Things Right: Discussion of Apologies, Acknowledgments and Reparations Reading: Oberg, “Your Territorial Acknowledgment is Not Enough;” Elizabeth Ellis and Rose Stremlau, “Land Acknowledgments: Helpful, Harmful, Hopeful,” Perspectives on History, 60 (November 2022), 24-26 (on Brightspace); Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape, (St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), Chapter 4 (Brightspace)

11 October        Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to our bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates. Reading: Mikaëla M. Adams, “`A Very Serious and Perplexing Epidemic of Grippe’: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 at the Haskell Institute,” American Indian Quarterly, 44 (Winter 2020), 1-35. (available on America: History and Life).

16 October        Other Residential School Projects: Reading: Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project; Sherman Indian Museum Collection; National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (University of Manitoba).

18 October        Child Removal in Comparative Perspective Reading: Margaret Jacobs, A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), Excerpts, on Brightspace.

23 October        Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates                         Revised Bibliography Due

25 October        Mandatory Individual Conferences

30 October        Opening Paragraphs Due.  Please bring enough copies for everybody in the class.

1 November      Mandatory Individual Conferences

6 November      Outlines Due.

8   November    Mandatory Individual Conferences

13 November     Progress Reports: What have you learned, what have you added to your bibliography, and how has your research progressed?  You will be prepared to speak for at least five minutes, and to field questions from your classmates

15 November     Mandatory Individual Conferences.

20 November     Outings Reading: Kevin Whalen, “Indian School, Company Town: Outing Workers from Sherman Institute at Fontana Farms Company,” Pacific Historical Review, 86 (May 2017), 290-321.

27 November     Discussion Drafts

29 November     Discussion Drafts

4  December      Discussion Drafts

6 December       Discussion Drafts

11 December     Final Papers Due

13 December     Meetings: Discussion of Final Grades


  1. Topic Statement and Initial Bibliography Due:  In a solid paragraph, describe the topic on which you would like to conduct research this semester, and a construct a preliminary bibliography in proper format listing the primary and secondary sources you will need to answer the questions you are asking. You can not have a thesis yet: you have not done the research necessary for that. But you can have a sense of the question, or questions, which you would like to try to answer. Due 25 September.
  2. Revised Bibliography Due: You should demonstrate that you have competently used JSTOR, America: History and Life, and the citations and bibliographies in the scholarly sources you have read to expand your bibliography.  Due 23 October.
  3. Opening Paragraphs: Please bring a draft of an opening paragraph. I assume you will likely make changes to this as you move forward and complete your project, but I do want you to bring something so that we can discuss writing and how to engage your readers most effectively. Due 30 October.
  4. Outlines Due.  Bring copies for everyone in class.  The more detailed your outline, the better. Due 6 November.
  5. Discussion Drafts:  A complete draft of your paper with footnotes accurately cited.  You will submit it on a Google Doc that will go on a shared drive accessible to your classmates.  We will read each draft closely, make suggestions, and work to improve your paper.
  6. Final Draft: This should require no elaboration.  Your final draft, formatted properly, is due on 11 December.  Because of the narrow span of time between our last meeting and the final exam period, I cannot allow any extensions for the final draft.

History 261, Native American History, Fall 2023

It has been several years since I’ve taught the Native American history survey course at Geneseo, and at the end of this month, I will be teaching it for the first time with the new edition of the textbook Peter Olsen-Harbich and I published last fall. As I have mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, I no longer give grades on student assignments. Drawing inspiration from the teaching of Cate Denial at Knox College, I develop a rubric in collaboration with the students. In meetings at the end of the semester, and with reference to this rubric and the extensive comments and suggestions I will have written on the students’ work, students assign themselves a grade for the course. Usually, about half the students enrolled in the course are history majors, and the rest enroll to fulfill some part of the general education requirements, which have recently undergone a thorough revision at Geneseo. Any questions or criticisms, please let me know in the comments below. I am aware of the funky formatting below, but I have not been able to figure out an efficient way to make what I have included below look like the document that I will make available to the students on the college’s clunky learning management system.

History 261                         American Indian History                               Fall 2023

Instructor: Michael Oberg                                                                              Meeting Times: MW, 10:30-12:10, Newton 21 Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:45                                                           EMAIL:  oberg@geneseo.ed Phone: (585)245-5730 (office) Website and blog: The website and blog are designed to complement the textbook. There is a review section for each chapter of the textbook.  Click on the “Manual.”

  • Required Readings:   
  • Michael Leroy Oberg and Peter Jakob Olsen-Harbich, Native America: A History,    3d. ed., 2022.  
  • Colin G. Calloway, ed., Our Hearts Fell to the Ground: Plains Indian Views of How the West Was Lost, 2d. ed., 2017.
  • Frederick E. Hoxie, Talking Back to Civilization: Indian Voices from the Progressive Era, 2001.
  • Francis Paul Prucha, ed., Documents of United States Indian Policy, 3d ed, 2000.                                            
  • Additional Documents and Articles available on JSTOR and as noted below.

Course Description:  This course surveys the history of Native Americans in the region that ultimately became the United States.  It traces the effects and consequences of the European “Invasion of America,” analyzes changes in and among native cultures in response to the arrival of Europeans, as well as native responses, resistance, and accommodation to European colonization.  We will examine the role of Native Americans as players in the intercultural, imperial politics of the Colonial Period, their    involvement in the American Revolution, and their response to the westward expansion of   Anglo-American settlement in the decades after the American Revolution.  We also will explore the historical background of the problems, issues, and challenges facing Indians in contemporary American society, and, in outline, the challenges posed to native peoples by Settler Colonialism. We will discuss the genocide that Indigenous peoples experienced and survived.          

Participation: In my view participation is more than attendance. I expect you to arrive at each class meeting with the readings completed and that you will be ready to discuss what you hare read. This is not a lecture course, and your contribution to our discussions is an important part of the learning experience. Though participation is more than attendance, attendance is critically important.   As you will see from the attached grading agreement, after four unexcused absences you will not be able to earn any grade higher than a D for the course. If, for some reason, you are unable to attend a class, please let me know in advance.

            Writing Assignments:  On two occasions over the semester, I will read your journals.You will write each week on short topics I assign you, but also on current events and on  any outside reading you choose to do.  I will provide you with these writing prompts in class.

I will also assign two short take home writing assignments, of no more than 1500 words in length. I will pose for you a number of broad questions that will force you to consider widely what you have read to that point in the semester, develop an argument and an effective answer, and to present that answer in writing with grace and style. 

With any of these assignments, I encourage you to let me know if you have any questions.  You should be clear on what I expect of you before you complete an assignment. Please use office hours, and if you cannot make these make an appointment to see me. I want to encourage you to ask for assistance and advice with your assignments.

I will write extensive comments in your journals and essays.  I will also make comments on these papers about your class participation.  I will ask you challenging questions, offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism, and encourage you to push yourself as a writer and a thinker. But I will not give you grades, in the traditional sense, on this work.

I want you to benefit from this course. On the date of our first class meeting, we will discuss the standards for the class.  You and I will work together to arrive at a set of expectations for the sort of work that will earn a specific grade.   In your final journal, and in individual meetings or phone calls scheduled during Finals Week, we will discuss how well you think you did in meeting the agreed upon standards, and what your grade for the course ought to be. 

Discussion Schedule

28 August        Introduction to the Course

Reading:  Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, Introduction, Chapter One.

30 August        The Columbian Encounter                                                                

Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 23-32; Columbus’s Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, 1493; The Requerimiento;

Also, have a look at the Re-Envisioning Greater Cahokia Story Map. Students interested in Native American languages might look briefly at the materials placed online by the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island.  

6 September    When Indians Discovered Europe

Reading: Harriot, Brief and True Report  and John White Paintings of Algonquians on the Outer Banks.            

11 September  The Shatter Zone

Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 33-44;  Some images from John Smith’s Generall Historie are available here; Take a good look at John Smith’s Map of Virginia as well. Also, read the poem from Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony  available here. For students who have the time and some familiarity with Disney’s “Pocahontas,” I encourage you to take a look at “Missing Mataoka,” which includes an alternative audio track to be played as you watch the Disney film.  Take a few minutes to read John Rolfe’s letter to Sir Thomas Dale, justifying his decision to marry Pocahontas.

13 September  The Shatter Zone, Continued.                                        Reading: Oberg and Olsen Harbich, Native America, 49-59; Treaty of Middle Plantation (1677). Please read as much as you can of John Eliot’s Tears of Repentance, a history of his efforts to bring Christianity to Indigenous peoples in southern New England.

18 September The Iroquois League and Confederacy. 

Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native American, 44-49, 59-79;Daniel K. Richter, “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” William and Mary Quarterly, 40 (October 1983), 528-559 (Please locate this article on JSTOR, download a copy of it, and makes sure you have a copy with you on your computer for our discussion. If you are unfamiliar with JSTOR, please ask for assistance. Look on the library webpage and click on databases). One of the most important primary sources used by Professor Richter in this well known essay was a collection of writings by French Missionaries to New France known as The Jesuit Relations.  You may follow this link to the Relations. I would like you to check Professor Richter’s sources occasionally, and look at how he uses his evidence.

20 September Life Behind the Frontier

Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 80-98; Samson Occom, “Short Narrative;” “The Confession of Samuel Ashbo of Mohegan” and Temperance Hannibal’s Narrative, dated 7 February 1754. 

25 September  Native Americans and the Wars of the Eighteenth Century                 Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 98-109; Proclamation of 1763.

27 September  The American Revolution Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 110-129; Michael Oberg, “What’s So Great About the American Revolution?” and “No Mercy.”

2 October        What Do We Make of the Revolution and Native Americans?                        Reading:  Jeffrey Ostler, “’To Extirpate the Indians’: An Indigenous Consciousness  of Genocide in the Ohio Valley and Lower Great Lakes, 1750s-1810,” William and  Mary Quarterly, 72 (October 2015), 587-622 (JSTOR)

4 October        Indians and the New American Empire               Prophets of the Republic                       Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 129-157; Prucha, Documents no. 1-21.

11 October    Native Peoples and Long Knives                                Reading:  David A. Silverman, “The Curse of God: An Idea and its Origins among the Indians of New York’s Revolutionary Frontier,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser. 66 (2009): 495-534 (JSTOR).

First Paper Due

16 October      The Mechanics of Dispossession: Or, How Chenussio Became Geneseo               Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 157-161; Prucha, Documents, Document no. 27, 29-34, 36-38; 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua; 1797 Treaty of Big Tree; Oberg, “The Treaty of Big Tree: Let’s Follow the Money”; and “Chenussio: The Indigenous History of Livingston County.”

18 October      The Removal Crisis                                                                   Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 162-174; Prucha, Documents, 39-45, 50.

                        First Journal Due

23 October      The Indians’ West                                                               Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 175-190; Calloway, Hearts, Introduction, Chapters 1-4.

25 October      The Indians’ West, Continued                                        Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 190-204; Prucha, Documents, nos., 51-66; Calloway, Hearts, Chapter 5; Angela Cavender Wilson (Waziyatawin), “Grandmother to Granddaughter: Generations of Oral History in a Dakota Family,” 20 (Winter 1996), 7-13 (JSTOR).

30 October      The Plains Wars: Concentration and Enforcement    Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 204-214; Prucha, Documents, 67-81, 83-85; Calloway, Hearts, Chapters 6-8.

1  November   Reformers and the Indian Problem                                Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 215-227; Prucha, Documents, no. 82, 97-98, 101-102, 104, 124; Hoxie, Talking Back, Introduction; Calloway, Hearts, Chapters 9-10.

6 November    Wounded Knee Reading: Black Elk Speaks, (excerpt, available here); And this website based on Historian Justin Gage’s We Do Not Want the Gates Closed Between Us. (Take some time to understand Gage’s argument about the Ghost Dance movement and its consequences.

8 November    The Nation’s Wards                                                                                  Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 227-247, Prucha, Documents, nos., 105-112, 117-118, 120-123, 125-129, 132-134, 137; Calloway, Hearts, Chapters 11-12; Hoxie, Talking Back, Ch. 1-3.

13 November  The Boarding School Experience                       Reading: The Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center

15 November  The Search for American Indian Identity                    Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 247-263; Prucha, Documents, nos. 136, 138-144; Hoxie, Talking Back, Chapters 4-7, Afterword.

20 November  From Termination to Self-Determination                 Reading: Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, pp. 263–275; Prucha, Documents, nos. 145, 147-149, 151-160, 162-163

27 November  The War on Native American Families. Reading: Magaret Jacobs, “Remembering the ‘Forgotten Child’: The American Indian Child Welfare Crisis of the 1960s and 1970s,” American Indian Quarterly, 37 (Spring 2013), 136-159; Oberg, “Texas is Making Me Crazy.”

29 November  The Struggle for Sovereignty:  1978                                        Reading: Prucha, Documents, nos. 167, 169-187; Oberg and Olsen-Harbich, Native America, 275-284;

4 December    Native America in the Era of Self-Determination Reading: Oberg, Native America, Chapter 10; Prucha, 189-190, 201, 204, 207, 210-211.

Second Journal Due

6 December    Native Nations and the Supreme Court in the 21st Century Reading:  McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020); Halland v. Brackeen (2023) (read Gorsuch’s concurrence and Thomas dissent).

11 December  Final Class Meeting: Where Do We Go From Here? Reading: Oberg, “The Trump Administration and American Indian Policy: A Post-Mortem” and Michael Oberg and Joel Helfrich, “Why Deb Haaland Matters.”

14 December  Final Writing Assignment Due, 8:00AM

18 December Meetings to Discuss Final Grades

When Do The Book Burnings Begin?

Imagine you lived in a country where its leader has declared certain topics off-limits. As a professor at a German University, you are prohibited from teaching the Holocaust. As a teacher in Turkey, you will face punishment if you discuss with your students the Armenian Genocide. You’re an expert in these subjects. You have spent much of your life studying them. But now you find yourself hauled before the authorities, your livelihood, your career, and your freedom in jeopardy.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Good thing it cannot happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Except that it is. Yesterday I learned that a professor at a state university in Florida was informed by the school’s administration that it had searched through their email account without advance notice, and sent several of their messages to the state legislature because they included information about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Such a state of affairs should horrify every freedom-loving American, and every American with a modicum of familiarity with the First Amendment, but I doubt it will. Americans, in general, have been taught well to feel little sympathy for educators, too often depicted slanderously as part of the nation’s cultural and economic elite. They have been taught for a generation to hate professors who taught “multiculturalism,” who presented “politically correct” topics, and now matters related to “DEI” and, especially, “Critical Race Theory.” These fears have been sparked by people like Rush Limbaugh and Lynne Cheney in the 1990s, and more recently by Ivy-League demagogues like Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ron DeSantis, who studied history at Yale and then earned a law degree at Harvard. DeSantis, I suspect, knows he is full of shit, and he doesn’t care.

I teach at a state college in New York. If my state had a law like Florida’s, I would be in a lot of trouble. They would not have to search my emails to for incriminating evidence. It’s on this blog, and on my Twitter account. We need to resist these hypocrites, even though you and I both know they won’t stand and fight. We need to look for opportunities to ask De Santis when the book burnings are scheduled to begin. When teachers face criminal penalties for presenting sound interpretations of the past, its only a matter of time.

Look, in my classes I make a historical argument, based on years of research and reading. I tell my students that the United States could not have assumed its current shape without a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession, involving fraud and violence, from sea to shining sea. That is not the whole course, but it is fundamental to the historic experience of Indigenous Peoples in North America. The students read the evidence upon which that reasoning is based. they analyze it, struggle through it, and ask questions. This is the sort of history that De Santis hates because, he claims, it will teach students to hate their country.

I have taught for a couple of decades. Any experienced and conscientious college teacher will tell you that there is no better way to lose an audience of young people than to preach dogma to them. They will tune you out quickly and completely.

You know what is more likely than a history lesson to teach children to hate their country? Lying to them about their country’s past. Every semester since I began teaching 29 years ago, I have been approached by students who tell me that they cannot believe they had never been taught this or that before. My response, for all these years, has been the same: “That’s not surprising. I hear that a lot.” I ask them, “Why do you think you were not taught this material in the past?” What possible motives might educators following state curricula have for hiding these subjects from them? I ask them to think about it, seriously.

Let’s be clear. Ron DeSantis and his Florida supporters do not want these subjects taught because they are racists who believe that only stories that promote a sterile and white-centric narrative of the past are acceptable. DeSantis presides over a state in which non-Hispanic whites are less than 60% of the population. Soon it will be a majority minority state. He does not want young Floridians to learn, critically and thoroughly, the history of the people who increasingly are their neighbors.

DeSantis has a history degree from one of the most elite, Ivy League universities in the United States. He knows perfectly well that history is not supposed to be a mere collection of facts. He knows, or should know if he listened in class, that history can be unsettling and disturbing. He should know, if he listened in class, that history is about asking and answering questions about the past. We conduct research to answer those questions. We collect and sift through the evidence. From that evidence, we draw conclusions and construct arguments. De Santis fears that these arguments will make children feel uncomfortable, ashamed of their white skin. It is difficult to think of an easier tell for detecting racism.

Because what De Santis won’t do is debate the evidence. To use an earlier example, if I argue that the United States could not have taken its shape without a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession, your obligation as a person who thinks and reasons about matters historical is not to say, “I don’t like that,” or “it makes me feel uncomfortable,” but to argue. If you think I am wrong, fine. Make your case. Explain why I am wrong and present evidence for a better interpretation of the past. This DeSantis and the conservative political leaders who think like him will not do. Not only are they racists. They are cowards, too. As citizens we need to let voters know that every chance we get.

Indigenous Law and Public Policy, Spring 2023

I have not taught one of my two favorite courses in person in quite a while. I was on sabbatical last spring, and I taught an online version in the Spring of 2021. I have posted the syllabus here to share recent updates to the course, but also to solicit suggestions and advice. I would like to broaden the focus, or develop a similar course that explores similar issues as they are discussed and analyzed in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Before the pandemic, I was well advanced in planning a study-abroad course for Sydney that would allow students and me to learn on the ground in Australia. Please, feel free to share your expertise. I would love to hear your thoughts. I apologize in advance for any gloopiness in the formatting: copying the Word File into this website makes for some awkward transfers some times.

History 262    Indigenous Law and Public Policy               Spring 2023

Professor: Michael Oberg

Meetings:   MW, 8:30-10:10, Welles 131

Office Hours:  Wednesday, 10:15-12:00, Doty 208

Roughly every week or so I post to my blog on matters related to the teaching and writing of Native American history.  You are welcome to follow along.

Required Readings:

Stuart Banner, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier, (2005)

Daniel Cobb, Say We Are Nations: Documents of Politics and Protest in Indigenous America since 1887, (2015).

Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, (2015)

Luke Lassiter, Clyde Ellis, and Ralph Kotay, The Jesus Road: Kiowas, Christianity, and Indian Hymns, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002)

Readings online.

News Articles in online news sources like and other online sources.

Court cases and documents as per syllabus.

Recommended Podcasts and other media:

            Wind River (Motion Picture)

            This Land, Seasons 1 and 2.

            Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo.

            Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s

            Stolen: The Search for Jermaine

            5-4: Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta

            5-4: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Course Description:   This course will provide you with an overview of the concept of American Indian tribal sovereignty, nationhood, and the many ways in which discussions of sovereignty and right influence the status of American Indian nations.  We will look at the historical development and evolution of the concept of sovereignty, the understandings of sovereignty held by native peoples, and how non-Indians have confronted assertions of sovereignty from native peoples.  We will also examine current conditions in Native America, and look at the historical development of the challenges facing native peoples and native nations in the 21st century.  This course is required for the Native American Studies Minor, and counts for the following Core attributes:

                        Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

                        Diversity, Pluralism, Power


A Note on Grading:  Your work this semester will consist of Participation, Journals, and a Final Paper.

1). Participation is much more than attendance. I view my courses fundamentally as extended conversations and these conversations can only succeed when each person pulls his or her share of the load.  You should plan to show up for class with the reading not just “done” but understood; you should plan not just to “talk” but to engage critically and constructively with your classmates.  Our conversations will depend on your thoughtful inquiry and respectful exchange.  We are all here to learn, and I encourage you to join in the discussion with this in mind.  Obviously, you must be present to participate. Please have all assigned readings available when we meet. The reading load in this course is quite heavy. It will challenge you to keep up. If you have trouble with the reading, please let me know.  You obviously will be able to participate in classes with the most success when you complete the reading.

2). Journals: On seven occasions during the semester I will read your journals.  I want you to think about what you are reading and I want you to write about that experience. You will submit your journals on Brightspace. You should plan on writing a minimum of 300 words a week. DO NOT SUMMARIZE OUR CLASS DISCUSSIONS.  DO NOT SUMMARIZE THE READINGS. I hope you will take this assignment as an opportunity to reflect upon what you are reading in class and in terms of current events, to discuss the things you wish that we had a chance to discuss in class, or to say what you wanted to say during one of our class meetings.  Show me that you are thinking about the material we cover in our readings and in the classroom.  Show me that you are keeping up with current events in Indian Country. Use the journals as an opportunity to educate yourself on issues in Native America that matter to you. Read the news on INDIANZ.COM,  National Native News, Native News Online, Indian Country Today, and CBC Indigenous for Canada, and the National Indigenous Times for Australia. I will also tweet out stories that I find of interest under the hashtag #HIST262MLO.  In addition, I would like you to follow news on one Native Nation.  You can set up a news alert on Google News, and stories will appear in your inbox whenever they occur. You can find a list of federally recognized Indian Nations here.  Some Indigenous nations receive more coverage than others.

Final Paper: Your paper should be approximately 15 pages in length.  You will take the role of an adviser to a new President.  Your assignment is to advise this President on Indian policy.  In your paper you will do the following:

1). Identify what you see as a major problem or problems in Native America today that you believe the President should tackle during her or his administration.

2). Explain briefly the historical origins of this problem and how and why previous solutions have either failed to address it or ignored it entirely.

3. Offer a thoughtful, plausible, and realistic path towards solving this problem, and       justify it legally and constitutionally.

4. Have at least 30 sources in a thorough bibliography that includes each of the following: news articles, government documents, reports from agencies working with indigenous peoples, and works by scholars who study these issues published in academic journals and books.

5. Format the paper according to the guidelines spelled out in the Turabian Manual. Write the paper with careful attention to grammar, style and substance.     

With any of these assignments, I encourage you to visit with me during office hours if you have any questions.  You should be clear on what I expect from you before you complete an assignment.  The door is open.  If you cannot make it to my office hours, please feel free to contact me by email and we will find another time. Many questions can be answered and problems addressed more effectively in person during office hours than by email.

I will write extensive comments on your written work.  I will ask you challenging questions, offer what I hope you will view as constructive criticism, and encourage you to push yourself as a writer and a thinker. But I will not give you grades, in the traditional sense, on this work. I want you to benefit from this course. On the date of our first class meeting, we will discuss the standards for the class.  You and I will work together to arrive at a set of expectations for the sort of work that will earn a specific grade.   In your final journal, and in individual meetings scheduled during Finals Week, we will discuss how well you think you did in meeting the agreed upon standards, and what your grade for the course ought to be. A proposed grading framework can be found, below.

A Note on COVID-19: We will be working together during a continuing global pandemic. Though the pandemic has slowed considerably, there is still reason to be careful. These remain trying times.  That you may feel stressed and anxious over the course of the semester is not surprising at all.  Your health is important.  The health of the people who matter to you is important. If the pandemic is posing a challenge to you doing the assigned work, please feel free to let me know.  I encourage you to ask for help if you need it. Stay in touch.

A Note on Phones: I ask that all cellphones be stored during the entirety of our class meeting.  If you expect an important call that just cannot wait, please inform me before class. Otherwise, I expect you to refrain from using your cellphone and I expect you to keep it out of sight. Please be present in mind and body.

Discussion and Reading Schedule

25 January       Introduction to the Course

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Banner, How, Introduction, Chapter 1; The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).    

30 January       Native Nations in the United States

                        How to Read a Supreme Court Case

Reading: Articles of Confederation, Article IX; United States Constitution; Northwest Ordinance  (1787); Federal Trade and Intercourse Act (1790); Treaty of Canandaigua (1794); Banner, How, Chapters 1-3

1 February       The Marshall Court and the Definition of Native Nations

Reading: Johnson v. McIntosh (1823); Banner, How, Chapters 4 and 5. If you are interested in a comparative perspective, I encourage you to look at Stuart Banner’s article, “Why Terra Nullius? Anthropology and Property Law in Early Australia,” Law and History Review, 23 (Spring 2005), 95-131, available on Brightspace.

6 February       The Expulsion Era

Reading: Documents on Jacksonian Indian policy (Brightspace); Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831); Samuel A. Worcester v. State of Georgia, (1832); Banner, How, Chapter 6.

Journal 1 Due.

 8 February      The Reservation System

Reading: Ex Parte Crow Dog; Major Crimes Act (1885) and US v. Kagama  (1886); Banner, How, Chapter 7.

13 February     The Policy of Allotment

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 19-49; Banner, How, Chapter 8;Talton v. Mayes (1896); Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1903); United States v. Celestine (1909)

15 February     The Indian New Deal

Reading: Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 54-93; Banner,  How, (finish book) and the Indian Reorganization Act,  1934.

20 February     The Termination Era

Reading: Cobb, Nations, pp. 97-106, 115-123; HCR 108; Tee-Hit-Ton Indians v. United States (1955).

Journal 2 Due

22 February     Williams v. Lee and the Modern Era of American Indian Tribal Sovereignty

Reading: Williams v. Lee (1959); Native American Church v. Navajo Tribal  Council (1959).

27 February     The Era of Self-Determination

Reading: McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Commission, (1973); Morton v. Mancari (1974).

 1 March          Red Power

Reading: Cobb, Nations, 124-188

 6 March          The Supreme Court’s 1978 Term, Congress and Tribal Sovereignty

Reading: US. v. Wheeler (1978); Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez (1978); Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978); Legislative Packet (Brightspace)

Journal 3 Due.

8 March           The Power of Tribal Governments

Reading: Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe (1982); Duro v. Reina, (1990); Atkinson Trading Company v. Shirley (2001); US v. Lara (2004)

20 March         The War on Native American Children and Families

Reading:  Adoptive Couple v Baby Girl (2013) (this was a messy case, with two concurring and two dissenting opinions); 5-4 Podcast on the Adoptive Couple case; Margaret Jacobs, “Remembering the ‘Forgotten Child’: The American Indian Child Welfare Crisis of the 1960s and 1970s,” American Indian Quarterly 37 (Winter/Spring 2013), 136-159 (Brightspace); Olivia Stefanovich, “2023 Will Be a Pivotal Year for Indigenous Child Welfare on Both Sides of the Border,” CBC News, 2 January 2023. The Cherokee Phoenix produced its own 42-minute long breakdown of the case, if you are interested in Native American reactions to Brackeen.

This would be a good time to listen to Season 2 of the “This Land” podcast hosted by Rebecca Nagel

Journal 4 Due

22 March         Jurisdiction and Sovereignty in the 21st Century

Reading: McGirt v. Oklahoma (2020); Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, (2022). Listen to 5-4 Podcast episode on the Castro-Huerta decision.

27 March         Sexual Violence in Indian Country

Reading: Deer, Rape.  We will discuss the book in its entirety.  You will want to begin reading

29 March         #MMIW #MMIWG

Reading:  Watch this advertisement from the Native Women’s Wilderness, and this one from the United States Office of Justice Programs/Office for Victims of Crimes; Absorb as much of the following as you can: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls, (Seattle: Urban Indian Health Institute, 2017); a PBS NewsHour report featuring Abigail HenHawk, who oversaw the Urban Indian Health Institute report; National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  (Explore the website, read the summary of the 2019 Final Report); the report from the Trump Administration’s “Operation Lady Justice”; and President Biden’s Executive Order 14053 from November of 2021.

Search on Twitter using the hashtags #MMIW and #MMIWG.  The podcast on the disappearance of Jermain Charlo would fit well here. Give it a listen.

3 April              Issues in American Indian Religion: Christianity in Indian Country

Reading: Lassiter, Ellis and Kotay, The Jesus Road, (entire book).

5 April             Issues in American Indian Religion 

Reading: Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (1990); Lyng v. Northwest Cemetery Protective Association (1988).  Please watch on your own “The Silence,” a PBS documentary on one small Catholic Church in Alaska.

                        Journal 5 Due

10 April           Issues in American Indian Education: Boarding Schools and their Legacy

Reading:  Gord Downie, “The Secret Path.”  I would also like you to go to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School online project.  You can find the website here.  Your assignment is, first, to read Louise NoHeart’s student file (Brightspace) and then to read a minimum of at least 5 student files from the Indigenous Nation you have been following this semester (or a related Nation)(Ask for help if you are not clear on how to do this!) In general, for each student there is an information card and a student file. Read both of those and search for the student’s name in the newspapers and other documents.  What do you learn about those students’ experiences at Carlisle? Be prepared to discuss what you found.

Please spend some time as well with the ArcGIS project from the University of Windsor looking at Canadian Residential Schools and this nine-minute report by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

12 April           Mascots and Other Forms of Appropriation

Reading: Materials on the Andrea Smith case; Russell Cobb, “Why Do So Many People Pretend to be Native American,” This Land Press, (August 2014), available here; Audra Simpson, “Indigenous Identity Theft Must Stop,” Boston Globe, November 17, 2022.

17 April           Economic Development and Poverty in Indian Country

 Reading: California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians (1987); National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) website.

                        Journal 6 Due

19 April           The Land and its Loss: The Consequences of Dispossession and Environmental Degradation

Reading: City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005); Stephanie H. Barclay and Michalyn Steele, “Rethinking Protections for Indigenous Sacred Sites,” Harvard Law Review, (forthcoming, on Brightspace).

24 April           Resistance: IDLA to Red Lives Matter, Idle No More

Reading: Watch Film: “You Are On Indian Land;” Cobb, Nations, 203-250;

Lakota Law Project, Native Lives Matter; Jonah Raskin, “Red Lives Matter,” Tablet Magazine, October 10, 2021. You can also read my report about the death or Reynold High Pine in 1972; Jason Pero in Wisconsin and Colten Boushie in 2018; Please also look at the Idle No More website and read about this Canadian movement.

26 April           GREAT DAY—NO CLASSES: Possible Guest Will Visit our Campus and Our Class.

1 May              Health and Well-Being in Native America

Reading: Indian Health Service, “Disparities,” Updated October 2019; Linda Poon, “How ‘Indian Relocation’ Created a Public Health Crisis,” Citylab, 2 December 2019; Mohan B. Kumar and Michael Tjepkema, “Suicide Among First Nations people, Métis and Inuit, 2011-2016),” Statistics Canada, 28 June 2019; Rural Tribal Health Overview, May 2022; Prabir Mandal and Jarett E. Raade, “Major Health Issues of American Indians,” 28 June 2018

3 May              What Is To Be Done?

Reading: Read the Preface, Introduction, and Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report from Canada, 2015, entitled Honouring the Past, Reconciling for the Future (read only the introduction, and whatever else interests you, in Brightspace) and “Calls to Action and Accountability: A Status Update on Reconciliation” by Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby of the Yellowhead Institute, (2019). 

Final Paper Due

8 May           What is to be Done? (Continued)

 Reading: Harold Napoleon, Yuuyarq: The Way of the Human Being, (Fairbanks: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, 1996).

                      Journal 7 Due

10 May            Final Class Meeting

17 May            Final Exam Period, 8:00-11:20: Individual Discussions to consider your final grade.

Let’s Mess With Texas

I read yesterday that legislators in Tennessee are considering a proposal that would result in the termination of educators who choose to discuss “divisive concepts.” Offended students can sue public colleges and universities if students feel they have been punished for not accepting these ideas, and now, teachers can be fired when students make a second complaint.

We are seeing in Red States across the country an all-out assault on the humanities, and history in particular. Legislators and leaders in these states do not want kids to learn about the more troubling parts of their state’s past.

Take Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Texas. He proposed legislation that would eliminate tenure for all new hires in the University of Texas system, allow the state to revoke the tenure of educators who exposed their student to “Critical Race Theory.” Patrick denounced the “Loony Marxists” at UT who passed a resolution endorsing educators’ rights to teach CRT if it is relevant to the course they are teaching.

Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick details in our Elected Officials Directory  | The Texas Tribune
Patrick Baring his Fangs at Your Freedom to Think

Much of this discussion has involved the subject of African slavery, and the role of the American state in supporting and defending this horrible institution. There are good reasons for this. But more than a decade ago when I lived in Houston, I remember my eighth-grade son’s homework assignment. It was a fill-in-the-blank handout that covered the 1790s. “What problems were we having,” the question read, “with the Indians?”

Wow. Who’s we?

I suspect that political leaders in Texas would be equally uncomfortable with discussions of the state’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, a subject Peter Olsen-Harbich and I write about in Native America, especially with regards to the history of the Caddos.

The number of settlers encroaching on the Caddos’ lands in the Red River valley and moving to new homes in Mexican Texas brought significant disruption in terms of land loss and the destruction of game upon which the Caddos relied. These new arrivals embraced and

Anderson has resisted calling what occurred in Texas a genocide, opting for the phrase “ethnic cleansing” instead. I disagree.

nourished a style of thought that the historian Gary Clayton Anderson called “the Texas creed”: a belief that the Anglo‐Americans who settled in Mexican Territory and who squatted on Indigenous peoples’ lands were culturally, politically, and racially superior to all others and, that they were justified to employ violence to uphold white supremacy. After the United States government disestablished its factory system, independent traders overran Caddo country. The Caddos told Thomas McKenney that the traders tailed them “like wolves,” selling illegal alcohol and cheating them in trade. The arrival of emigrant Indians, driven out of the east into the Caddo country, intensified these problems: 500 Choctaws, some Kickapoos from the Midwest, a handful of Delawares, and a few Shawnees. Initially the Caddos welcomed the newcomers as allies against their Osage enemies, but as their numbers grew, augmented by a rising number of Cherokees, the Caddos felt themselves pinched.

The presence of Europeans certainly had affected Caddo culture. Many of them spoke French or Spanish or English, and they had incorporated elements of American‐style clothing into their dress. They raised chickens and hogs. They did not want to abandon their homelands. They held out until 1835. That summer, they met with Jehiel Brooks, the federal Indian agent appointed for them by Andrew Jackson. They needed food, and relief from the settlers encroaching on their lands. Brooks informed them that the United States could do little to protect them from settlers, and that the president would tolerate no resistance. With Mexico attempting to lure friendly Indians to settle in Texas, an attempt to stop the hordes of Americans illegally crossing the border into what was still Mexican territory, the Caddos made the “sorrowful resolution” to sell their lands. In exchange for payments which they received only in part, the Caddos entered into a treaty in which they ceded their lands and promised “to remove at their own expense out of the boundaries of the United States within one year.”

This is an example of the “deportation” and “expulsion” that characterized the era of “Removal” in the first half of the nineteenth century. You should definitely read Claudio Saunt’s important book on the subject if you have not.

The Texas Revolution, which began shortly after the signing of this treaty, complicated the Caddos’ removal. The Texans quickly won their independence from Mexico, a newly independent nation itself weakened in large part because of endemic Indian raiding. Large numbers of heavily armed Anglo‐American settlers in Texas led Comanches and their allies— Kiowas and others—to direct their attacks to other parts of northern Mexico. These raiders transformed the northern borders of Mexico into a zone of exploitation, from which they harvested tribute, acquired livestock, and other plunder. When Mexico’s economy collapsed under the weight of this raiding, the Comanches and their allies turned their attention eastwards toward Texas. The Lone Star Republic’s first president, Sam Houston, hoped to secure a peace with the neighboring Indigenous peoples. The Kiowas, Comanches, and Lipan Apaches, however, facing the viciousness of Texas Rangers who Houston could not control and who attacked and killed without remorse, had the ability to fight back with devastating effectiveness. To many Texans, Houston seemed weak and unable to protect them. In 1838, the Texans elected the Indian‐hating Mirabeau Lamar to replace Houston. Lamar promptly called for a war of extermination against Indigenous peoples in the republic, and his soldiers slaughtered men, women, and children. By the summer of 1839, Texan forces had burned villages belonging not only to the Caddos but to Cherokees, Shawnees, Delawares, Creeks, and Seminoles as well. Most fled into the Indian Territory, as white settlers took over their lands. It was truly vicious.

Mirabeaulamar 2.jpg
Mirabeau Lamar

It was Lamar’s desire, he wrote, “to have the entire western country cleared of the enemy.” He openly declared his genocidal intent. Lamar reaped the whirlwind he had sown, as displaced Indigenous peoples raided Texas settlements. Kiowas and Comanches launched dozens of attacks. Some Caddo bands participated in these raids. But Kiowa, Comanche, and Caddo leaders learned Mas well that fighting the Texans could only result in death, destruction, and dispossession. Recognizing the need for unity and for peace, the Caddos welcomed the chance to return to Texas when Sam Houston once again became president. The Caddos agreed to assist Houston by serving as mediators between Texans and hostile Indians, and in return were permitted to settle on lands along the Brazos River. There they would serve as a buffer, protecting Texans from Comanches and Kiowas. When Texas became part of the United States, the federal commissioners negotiated a treaty with the Texas tribes, including the Caddos, in which the Caddos agreed to place themselves “under the protection of the United States.” Indians were a federal problem now. The Texans did little to assist the Caddos’ agent, Robert Neighbors, and began to push hard for the dispossession of the Texas Indians and their expulsion from the state. Many state residents found appealing once again the policies of extermination pursued by Mirabeau Lamar, and they accepted that chronic racial violence as the price of civilization was a vital component of the Texas creed.

The genocidal policy of “Indian Removal” devastated Indigenous peoples. As Claudio Saunt pointed out, ff the approximately 88,000 Indians the United States forced from their homes and sent west, between 12,000 and 17,000 died, or roughly between 14 and 19 percent of their total population.  If we look only at those removed from the southern states, 11,000 to 14,000 died, or 17 to 22% of the total population. America could not have become America without a systematic program of Native American dispossession. And Texas could not have become Texas without genocidal warfare against Indigenous peoples.

So what to do? Federal officials, moving from the policy of removal to a new federal policy we can call “Concentration,” began to work to place Indians in the trans-Mississippi west on to reservations. The Caddos’ experience would have showed federal officials that the policy could not work. The Caddos at their new home faced frequent raids both from enemy Indians and from white Texans who coveted their lands. The Caddos respected their federal agent, Robert Neighbors, but they learned quickly that he lacked the power to protect them from alcohol vendors, white squatters, and the psychopaths who served in the Texas Rangers. Neighbors complained to Commissioner Medill in 1848 that trespasses on native land “regardless of the consequences … must necessarily and inevitably lead to serious difficulty.” Neighbors called upon the Texas government, which retained control of lands in the state, to cede a tract for the establishment of a reservation. He wanted to protect the Caddos from hostile Indians and from the Texans themselves. They had murdered dozens of Caddos, and these Indian killers hated Neighbors and all that he stood for. Only after five years of bloodshed did the Texas legislature finally heed Neighbors’ call and grant to the United States a tract “for the use and benefit of the several tribes of Indians residing within the limits of Texas.”The Caddos recognized that life on this Brazos Reservation would require of them certain changes. They began to send their children to the schools opened and operated by Neighbors, and they continued to adopt white husbandry and agriculture. Visitors to the reservation, Neighbors noted, “are astonished at the progress made by the Indians in the arts of civilized life.” In 1856, he reported that the Caddos and other Indigenous communities settled on the Brazos reserve “have neat cottages, with good gardens and fields adjacent, and the many conveniences to be seen on every hand give me abundant evidence of the progress made by the Indians since their settlement.” They had done all that the United States asked of them. By 1857, the Caddos had accumulated a “fair stock of horses, cattles, and hogs, and are paying particular attention to stock raising.” Neighbors believed that “in a few years their condition will bear comparison with our frontier citizens.” All seemed to be going well.

These changes, however, rested upon a fragile foundation. The Caddos tried to be good neighbors to the settlers living near them. According to their agent, they “held themselves ready and willing to assist in rescuing any property stolen from the citizens on this frontier by the roving bands of hostile Indians.” Caddo men accompanied Texas Rangers and federal troops in raids against the Comanches, for instance, whose attacks terrified Texas settlers. The most perceptive Texas authorities recognized the importance of the Caddos’ assistance, but settlers in the vicinity of the Brazos reserve inclined to place the blame for the attacks upon all Indians, whether friendly or not.

In late December of 1858, a group of Texas frontiersmen fired on a group of Caddos. Three women and four men died. Ten more received serious wounds. After telling their story, some of the survivors fled from the reservation. Authorities in Texas did nothing to bring the killers to justice. Despite the efforts of federal authorities who, in Neighbors’ case especially, advocated for the Caddos, there seemed nothing that the United States could do to protect them. Neighbors received orders to remove the Caddos to “where they can be protected from lawless violence, and effective measures adopted for their domestication and improvement.” That meant leaving Texas. Neighbors guided the Caddos to new homes north of the Red River and advertised the abandonment of the Brazos reserve in local newspapers— white settlers need not do anything rash, he suggested, for the Indians were leaving. The settlers could have the land. In August of 1859 Neighbors wrote to his wife, informing her that “I have this day crossed all the Indians out of the heathen land of Texas, and am now out of the land of the Philistines.”

A state marker that erases the violence of Neighbors’ death.

This removal, like all removals, was difficult. Kiowa and Comanche raiders haunted the removing party, stealing their horses and cattle. The degree to which the Caddos had incorporated elements of American culture made them an inviting target. Extreme heat and inadequate supplies of water created great discomfort and concern. Still, Neighbors was careful; only six Indians died. He managed to guide them safely to their new homes at the Wichita Agency in the Indian Territory. The reservation experiment in Texas had failed. Local whites would not tolerate an Indian presence close to home, whether friendly or not. After the Caddos departed, Neighbors became the last casualty of the removal. As he returned home to Texas in September of 1859 to settle his affairs, an angry frontiersman who had suffered in Comanche raids stepped out from behind a building and shot Neighbors in the back. His friends did not dare to move his body until night fell, for they feared repercussions. Texans hated “Indian Lovers.”

The history of Texas is not unique. The American states took their shape through campaigns of Native American dispossession. This process took place with treaties and at the point of the gun. It was often characterized by incredible racist violence. That violence, that history, is precisely the sort of material that makes so many history-hating Republican politicians so worried that they are encouraging their colleagues to enact legislation proscribing accurate accountings of the American past. Leaders like Patrick lack the stones to engage in debate. They offer no alternative interpretation or evidence to explain why our views are wrong. Men as angry as they are feeble-minded, as tyrannical as they are truly powerless, they will ruin some teachers’ lives, and breed cynicism in another generation of school kids. But what they fail to realize that the barn door was left open long ago, that historians are doing great work and will continue to do so despite their quixotic campaigns of repression. We must resist them. We must ask them to explain, in detail, why they find our interpretations of the past dangerous or wrong. And we must ask them to talk about the evidence to support their views. The Right Wing assault on history and history-teaching has gone on long enough. Patrick’s approach, as someone I admired greatly would have said, is “chicken shit.” Let’s show them how wrong they are.

My High School History Teacher Died

I learned the other day that my old neighbor, Bob Jones, had died. He was a very old man. Mr. Jones was one of my history teachers when I was in high school. My parents and he were friends, and I knew through them that he followed my career until he was no longer able. I suspect his family will say he had a good life. Even though I had not spoken to him in many years, I wish that I could have gone home to California for his memorial service. I owe him a lot, I think.

Let’s be clear. I graduated from high school almost forty years ago. There are classes I took that I am certain I remember nothing about. There are other classes that I remember for reasons that had nothing to do with the content. I remember the mystery fiction teacher who looked just like Mark Mothersbaugh in his prime DEVO years (and I attended high school just after DEVO’s prime years.) I remember the guy who taught a class in science fiction and fantasy literature. He was an alcoholic. We all knew that, and he was falling apart a little bit each day. He was the first of a number of people I saw go to pieces. This may not be a good reason for remembering a class–I know we read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy–but it was an education that added some strange element toour discussions of the trials of a small band of reluctant adventurers making their way into Mordor.

To be honest, I remember less about Mr. Jones’ class than where some of my friends sat in that classroom. I could draw a map of that room from memory. I know it was an American history class, and I can imagine that we talked about subjects that matter to me much more now than they did back then.

But there are two things I remember quite vividly. The first was a sort of Great Depression game. We played the stock market. Some students still play this game in high school history. The prices went shooting up. Should we sell? Mr. Jones asked us to think about this. Or should we wait and see if the prices continued to climb. Some of us did quite well. Some of us hung on to our stocks too long. We ended up holding worthless pieces of paper. Black Friday.

The second thing must have occurred on or near the first day of the term. Mr. Jones gave each of us a penny. Imagine, he said, that this is all that we know of a lost civilization, and you are the archaeologist who discovered this coin. This is all the evidence we have. What conclusions could you reasonably draw? Lincoln was God. I remember that coming from the discussion. But I also remember realizing for the first time that if you looked really closely, you could see Lincoln sitting in the Lincoln Memorial on the “tails” side of the coin.

Penny Tail (Back) | Matthias | Flickr

The content, I would argue is beside the point. I remember both of these assignments because they were fun. I remember Mr. Jones having fun as well. Obviously he knew precisely when the market was going to fall, and I am sure he had done the penny project many times before, but he laughed when we laughed, and he was buoyed by our enthusiasm.

High school history teachers can do three things, it seems to me. They can help a student feel nothing towards history. They can help a student hate history. Or they can help a student fall in love with a subject. Mine was obviously in the latter category, and that penny project was the earliest instance I can think of in school where I was required to think like a historian.

High school was miserable for me. It always involved avoiding the Jocks who liked to pound on the punk rock kids and the skaters, made worse because the principal was the principal jock’s dad. I left school at lunch for my senior year because I signed up for a course I took at nights at the junior college. That was allowed back then. I had my afternoons off, and for three periods a day I did not have to attend school. Teachers ranged from the drunk to the deranged to the creepy and the frustrating. But there were a significant number of really good ones, and I am proud to say that I knew them.

Teachers have the power to destroy or to create, and they can do both with a single sentence. It is an incredible responsibility. I am glad that some of my teachers took that responsibility so seriously, that decades later I can remember them still. And in a history class, it had nothing to do with the actual content, but how that content was delivered. And in Mr. Jones’ class, even if I learned nothing else, I learned not only that history was interesting, but that it could be fun.

The Census Bureau is Producing Lesson Plans for Elementary Education: The Results are Not Good

I know that teaching elementary school is a difficult job, and that is why I am pretty forgiving about some of the mistakes that teachers make. We all get things wrong once in a while. If no malice is involved, let’s fix the problem and move on.

The Census Bureau, of all agencies, produced a lesson plan on “Native American Dwellings.” It is part of a program called, apparently, “Classrooms Powered by Census Data.”

This particular plan is geared toward children in second- and third-grade. Students who achieve the learning outcomes “will be able to observe differences among three types of Native American dwellings,” write about the differences they observed, and “be able to compare their observations about Native American dwellings to other information about the dwellings.” Mind you, the activity requires that children look at just three types of Native American dwellings–“teepees, pueblo adobe structures, and hogans.” Who used each type of dwelling? Why was it used? From what materials was it made? What, the children will be asked to imagine, was life like in each home?

Students should learn more than they do about Native Americans, but exercises like these are pernicious. The Census Bureau is not alone in producing educational material like this, and it has been going on for a long time. But with so much data at its disposal, certainly the Census Bureau has the ability to do much better.

An old exercise, demonstrating some of the same faults the Census Bureau lesson plan possesses.

It focuses exclusively on the Native American past to the exclusion of the present. Students could complete the exercise and realize that Indigenous peoples still exist and that they live in homes very much like theirs.

The Census Bureau does maintain data on Native American housing, down to the level of the percentage of homes that have indoor plumbing and kitchens inside the house. This assignment focuses only upon images of the past.

An Image from the Census Bureau lesson plan.

So what?

When educators emphasize images rooting Indigenous peoples in the past, they are aiding in erasure of Indigenous peoples in the present. And if they are part of the past, it becomes easier to dismiss the legitimate claims of native peoples as being out of time and place and, as a consequence, irrelevant. When teachers describe Native peoples to their students as part of the past, they assist, however unwittingly, in making it more difficult for many Americans to recognize the importance of native peoples’ calls for justice today.

Montana Story, Part II: Apply Yourself

And about that college in Montana. It is not that the people in my department did not care about my research. It’s that they saw any small success that came my way as something to resent. Sometimes I told myself that they saw my work through a lens of insecurity, that my productivity reflected on their own lack of productivity. But I was not all that productive in Montana. Anyways, I know now that this was never the case. They were just mean-spirited bastards, and I let those assholes get under my skin.

I have thought about this a lot in light of the Netflix show “The Chair.” I saw someone on twitter ask about Bob Balaban’s character, the starchy and elitist professor of American literature Elliot Rentz. Pembroke University, the fictional setting for “The Chair,” looks like paradise compared to MSU-Billings, which at the time I taught there was a demoralizing hellscape led by a dunce of a President and a dumbbell Dean.

My department consisted of two Jeopardy Champions. One, who was working on a bibliography of lynching, insisted that the infamous Willy Horton advertisement was perfectly acceptable and had nothing to do with race in America. The other was a Harvard-trained historian of the French Revolution who had been denied tenure at two other institutions before he landed in Billings. He did not drive, and relied on students to drive him around. He liked to hang around the dorms. When I left Billings, he warmly congratulated me, told me how great my new department chair was, and then scurried off to tell him how awful I was. My new chair assured me that this reflected badly on everyone in Montana but not on me.

There was also in the department an Iraqi Seventh-Day Adventist who believed that African Americans were moving to Billings because it was an easy place to commit crimes, and a Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor who proudly claimed that being a professor “was the best part time job in the world.”

There are all sorts of people in the United States who do not want to hear anything bad about the American past. These people can make our jobs difficult. What I think is often overlooked, however, are the barriers to doing the work we do inside the academic institution: administrators who don’t want to draw the dangerous attention of dingbats in the legislature or on the Board of Trustees by discussing controversial subjects; penny-pinching college leaders unwilling to make the investments, personally and financially, to make the college a welcoming space for Indigenous students; and students, even in areas where Native Americans are the largest minority group of campus, who sometimes care nothing at all and Indigenous peoples and their communities. Racism of these stripes was a genuine repressive force in Billings.

I taught there for four years, in an era when it seemed the internet was still in its infancy, without cell phones, and with no computer provided by the college. And because I was a single parent for three of my four years, I could easily stay out of the loop. I was really busy, and Billings felt far away from everything. The right-wingers like Lynne Cheney and Pat Buchanan who, at that time, denounced “politically correct” history, really did not affect me much at all. Not directly, anyways. What mattered more was teaching a subject that was considered provocative, in a bad way, at an institution presided over by leaders who actively discouraged discussions raising challenging questions about the American past.

I was hired to teach the history of Early America, from the colonial period through the “Age of Jackson.” It just so happened that not only had my predecessor left, but another guy, who taught Native American history was retiring. During my on-campus interview, he drove me forty miles to a bar in Columbus, Montana, where we split a six pack of Budweiser. He was a good guy, I think. He left me a ton of books. He taught the subject as little more than the history of the Plains Wars.

New Atlas Saloon in Columbus, Montana – Legends of America
The New Atlas Bar, Columbus MT.

That wasn’t me. I focused my research on the seventeenth century. I was turning my dissertation into a book. I had a much broader coverage in mind. What do to, then, when the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, in a meeting after my first contract renewal, told me that she wanted to see more “relevant” and “applied” research? No one in Montana cared about the history of the Chesapeake or New England, she seemed to suggest.

Eastern Montana State Normal School, Billings, Montana

Contract renewals were tough. Each year my contract came up for renewal. Each year, the two Jeopardy champions voted to fire me. Each year, the Pastor and the Seventh-Day Adventist voted to keep me around. One student member of the committee, God bless them, voted each year to save my job. It was tense, and I needed every ally I could get.

So I tried to play ball. I started speaking with some of my students who drove to Billings from the Crow Reservation. I learned a lot, things I had read in no scholarly monograph. What came from these conversations was the racism these students faced–in high school in Hardin, Montana, in the city of Billings, and in classrooms at my college. Perhaps there was a story to tell here.

I cannot remember the details. There had been some event at Hardin High. The non-Indigenous students stayed home from some sort of cultural awareness day, their truancy excused by their parents. The Crow kids, as kids will do, made some noise about racism. The next day, distributed throughout Hardin, were copies of some white nationalist text like The White Man’s Bible. I went down to Hardin. I tried to learn more. I tried to blend in and listen. I talked to a few people about racism in Hardin. I had gathered some great insights about racism in a reservation border town. This struck me as immediately significant and relevant to life in Montana and in a host of western states. In the end, it was too difficult to do the research. I would have had to spend a lot of time in Hardin, an hour’s drive from where I lived, and my family life would not permit that. But the bigger barrier was the Dean, who somehow had become the Provost, or something like that. I ran into her, somewhere on campus, whcih almost never happened, and told her about the project. I could see clearly from her reaction that this was not what she had in mind at all.

I left Billings in 1998. At Geneseo, where I have taught pretty much ever since, I have been able to do what I wanted to do. We do not have a lot of money, but in every other way my research has been supported.

And that’s the key point. To do research requires a network of support. It is easier for us to do our work when we have interested colleagues who encourage us and provide pointed criticism, administrators who recognize the value of what we do. With that assistance, we can stand up to the racists, the haters, the bigots and trolls. That part of the job becomes easy. It’s when these things are missing that our academic lives can be miserable.

Montana Story, Part I: Erasure

During a cross-country drive last month, we stopped in Billings, Montana, where I lived in the mid-1990s. It was at Montana State University-Billings where I began my career as a professor in the fall of 1994. We drove around the town, looked at the houses where we used to live. It was clear that the city had changed a lot in the more than twenty years since I last had been there.

            I was eager to see the campus. I left my family at the hotel—they all wanted to hang out by the pool—and I drove up 27th Street North to the campus. I struggled to find my bearings. It had been a long time. An addition to the science building had taken over what formerly had been a faculty parking lot. I headed toward the Liberal Arts Building.  My office had been on the eighth floor, I believe, and all the classes I taught were held in that imposing edifice. I spent some time walking around the campus on a quiet Sunday evening.  All the buildings were locked, so I could not go see my old office or the classrooms where I taught.

File:MSUB LA Building.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
More Daunting than Mordor

            Much had changed, so much that I felt a bit lost. Buildings had grown. It seemed like a very different place, and I noticed things I had forgotten over the years, especially the small garden that stands in the shadow of the Liberal Arts Building.  The garden was named after an English professor named Bruce Myers, who had died young—younger than I am now—two years before I arrived in Billings. A centerpiece in the garden was a poem Myers wrote shortly before his death:

“Last Class”

Seeds are floating from the cottonwoods

And the wind is up. All around us

Poets gather on grass the air carries

White puffs. We read each other’s words

Wondering if this as close as we’ll come

To the flight of clouds? Or is this

What flying means—sitting in Spring

Our bodies, full of birds and grass and words,

Wondering as cottonwoods whisper at our ears?

I do not know the word for this vision

This congregation of poet bodies, poet words

Beneath this tree. But last this once

This single sunlit singing afternoon

Love will do.

What a perfect statement of the depth of the joy that teaching can bring.

Where is Cookie?: Remembering: Poet's Garden honors legacy of a fine teacher

            I learned a lot from teaching in Montana. It was the first time in my career where I had significant numbers of Native American students in my classes. They drove in from Crow and from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. I learned from these students things that put my academic and scholarly concerns in perspective. Many of the debates that dominate the field of Native American Studies and Native American History on college campuses simply do not carry much register in Native American communities on the Northern Plains.

            I learned a lot, but I spent much of my time at Billings trying to find a job someplace else. I was in a deeply dysfunctional department on a struggling campus, where more people left than went up for tenure.  The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts had no respect for what I did and said that whatever research I produced should be “relevant” and “applied.”  I asked her what she thought that meant, and I never really got a good answer, but it was clear that unless she thought it was important and relevant, today, to her, that it would not count for much.  Bruce Myers’ words meant nothing to her.

            I would like to think that things are better in the field of Native American history than they were in the 1990s, and that the field is booming.  A tremendous amount of scholarship is produced each year. Native American history no longer exists on the margins of the field. But the same day I arrived in Billings last month, I read on Twitter of a bill introduced into the Texas legislature by one of the Lone Star Republic’s many East Texas lunatics. He sought, in his effort to combat what he saw as the mortal threat posed by “Critical Race Theory,” to remove from the state’s social studies standards a requirement that students learn about “the history of Native Americans.”  If we do not talk about the bad things, they never happened.


            When it appears this baldly, it puts our academic and interpretive debates in perspective. We argue about interpretations, evidence, and approaches, and then there are those who could not care less about any of this.  “Cast all this aside,” they seem to say. History must be a celebration of White Christian America’s greatness.  Nothing else matters.

            I began teaching in Montana in 1994. That same semester conservatives worried about the spectre of political correctness.  Lynne Cheney had recently gone on a crusade against the National History Standards.  Liberal professors, she argued, were out to indoctrinate American students, to teach them that America’s story was one of racism, oppression, and greed.  They were teaching “multiculturalism” and emphasizing the bad parts of American history.  It is an old, old, argument, a tried-and-true Conservative tactic to avoid talking about historical moments that challenge their cherished and largely fictional narrative of the American past. Some of my colleagues in the department, too, shared Cheney’s concerns. They attempted, and to my embarrassment succeeded, in making my life miserable because I was newly hired on a tenure-track gig. I made the mistake of caring what these old racists thought. I hold no malice towards them now: they are retired, dead, or out of the academy, and I have spoken to none of them since the Clinton years. But they did not see Native American history as central to the American story.

            I have been at this for thirty years and there always have been people who claim to know something about my line of work that do not want to hear anything that is not a celebration of American greatness. I have friends who find it exhausting, the feeling of always having to justify their work. I am sympathetic. I felt that way during my four years in Montana, before I got out. As I walked around the quiet and empty campus, I realized how much I have changed. I have great faith in the power of teaching still, like Professor Myers, and I can view encounters with those who reject what I do as teachable moments, as opportunities for dialogue and engagement.  I feel like I must.  Of course, there are those who do not want this, and recoil from dialogue, who retreat from any situation in which their cherished notions of the past are called into question.  I have no control over that. So I work to keep my mind open, to exclude no one, to keep working with Indigenous communities, as I have done for the past 23 years, and to keep trying to produce scholarship as well. Doing good work in this field means trying to get it in front of as many eyes and into as many ears as possible.

            I learned from my time in Billings that in academia, as in so many other things, one must learn to accept that there are things beyond our control.  Accepting that brutal fact will help you sleep at night. The job market in higher education is, well, not much of a market at all.  Administrators can be cruel or obtuse, colleagues selfish and petty, and students, sometimes, just are not able to care.  There are those out there who reject everything we do without reading a word of what we write or listening to a word of what we say. Some of them are open to reason. You can engage with them.  But others will not listen no matter what you say.  Why let those people get to you?

            I do my work. I teach classes. I do service, on campus and off. I am fortunate to be able to work with, for, and in Indigenous communities. I write books and articles, knowing full well that more people will read this post on my obscure little blog than anything that appears in a scholarly journal.

            The first time an English-speaking writer put pen to paper to try to understand the Native American past and the Native American present on its own terms, there were English-speaking readers who not only rejected this work, but actively tried to discredit the author. Some tried to keep others from reading that author’s work.  The textbook policing of those little men who crusade against CRT—they are nothing new. Their assault on higher education, against free inquiry of any kind—may seem like a pernicious and unprecedented threat. It is not unprecedented at all. Remember what the anti-racists say. The rot is deep, and it goes to the core. It is fundamental. There have always been white loudmouths crying “Patriotism” and “Love of Country” and “MAGA!” as wittingly or unwittingly they seek to exclude, marginalize, and erase.

            Don’t laugh at these people. Don’t ignore them. Have the courage to engage them when the opportunity presents itself (and you absolutely should seek out those opportunities). Ask them questions. Hold their feet to the fire. Accept that this may be frustrating. They may be too fragile to engage you in dialogue. And that is the way it always has been. Take care of yourself, but do not give up and do not retreat. Peace.