Category Archives: Teaching Native American History

Racists on the March

I teach the history of a stolen continent at a small rural college that stands on lands torn from its original Indigenous inhabitants. I do so in a country where the teaching of “divisive topics,” in parts and places, is now illegal. All Americans of conscience and character must resist these legislative book-burnings.

            The United States is neither more progressive nor more free than many countries around the globe.  Nor are we particularly happy, according to a recent study. The racists who govern the State of Alabama are only making matters worse. 

            In a bill signed the other day by Grand Master Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama has prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts.” It’s worth looking at how the State defines that term. Any educator who teaches “that one sex, race or religion is inherently superior to another race, sex or religion;’” that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely on the basis of his or her race,” that “an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;” that “members of one race should attempt to treat others differently solely on the basis of race;” and that “an individual’s moral character is determined solely on the basis of his or her race, sex, or religion.”  Two parts of the original bill stated that teaching “that meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist” and that “with respect to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality,” were struck before the Governor signed.  So let’s get this straight.  Alabama Grand Old Party had the chance to endorse the principle that slavery and racism are betrayals of the American political tradition, and they chose not to.

            This is a problematic list, to say the least.  Teachers who tell their students that one racial group is superior to another are found most commonly only in the fever dreams of right-wing dingbats. Legislators wo feel that any criticism of the United States is pernicious and divisive, however, are increasingly common, though 99% of them are too chickenshit to take questions about their policies.  The Alabama law also said that any teacher who presented to their class the notion that “this state or the United States is inherently racist or sexist” or that asked their students to “accept, acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity, or a need to work harder on the basis of his or her sex or race” could face dismissal.

An installation at the Lynching Monument in Montgomery, depicting part of Alabama’s history that is totally not racist at all, according to Kay Ivey.

            I ask my students every semester to accept the possibility that they have benefited from the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in New York State.  Indeed, New York could not have become the Empire State through a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession that, at times, violated the laws of the United States. Indigenous peoples, who have merely asked that the state and the United States follow its own rules, would point out that many of us live on land taken illegally from Indigenous peoples. What I do not do, however, is teach the history of Alabama.  I touch on it a bit, of course, when I talk about “Indian Removal,” but the Deep South is not a big player in my courses, most of which focus on the Northeast and Native American history broadly construed.  But I think back to what I have read over the years.  I think of the fact that Alabama left the Union because they feared that Abraham Lincoln would abolish slavery, a “domestic institution” that even non-slaveholding Alabamans were willing to fight and die to defend.  No matter how low you were in Alabama, no matter how poor and how poorly-educated, so long as you were white there was a level beneath which you could never fall. Slavery guaranteed that there would always be a permanent underclass. You know the story of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, blown up by white supremacists who had no problem killing black children. Birmingham was the most segregated city in the United States throughout the 20th century.

            Alabama’s government leaders do not want to discuss the state’s long racist history and the lasting legacy of segregation and discrimination.  They do not want anyone to make them feel guilty about the past.  I get that.  But that sounds like a white people problem to me. Alabamans worry that teaching students about the long history of racism with which this nation, after so long, still contends, will weaken their patriotism, diminish their faith in America and its institutions.  That’s cowardly nonsense.  I have been teaching a long time.  Every single semester, I have students who come up to me and say that they are amazed and appalled that they learned none of what I taught them in high school.  They are not hurt by what I tell them.  They do not feel guilt. Rather, they feel anger at a state educational system that has lied to them and white washed its history.  After enrolling in my classes, and in those taught by my colleagues, these students emerge with an awareness of the yawning gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be, and the huge chasm between American principles and American reality.  The best of them dedicate their lives to making things better.  Do not think for a second that Alabama’s leaders don’t know this.  The issue, for them, which they lack the courage to state publicly, is that they prefer a status quo that heaps privilege of white people and that turns a blind eye towards the mountains of evidence of continuing racism and discrimination.  They don’t want young people to learn these lessons because they do not want things to get better.  The Alabamans who wrote this bill and approved of its content are a bunch of nasty, old racists. Their fingernails are cleaner than the troglodytes who cheered lynchings, or the former state governor who pledged himself to upholding discrimination forever, but their goals are precisely the same.

Rules for Historical Writing.

We are approaching crunch time. Two months left in the semester. I have assigned research papers, and I hope the students are working on them. It is such a difficult thing to do, harder even than the students know. To start from nothing, and over the course of 15 weeks read enough to frame a meaningful question, to dive into secondary works that might be difficult for students to read, and, of course, primary sources, which can be extremely challenging. I tell them how difficult the process is. I tell them, half jokingly, because we give ourselves seven years to write something meaningful and they have just a couple of months. In a way, we hold our students to standards higher than we hold ourselves, especially as the demand on faculty to publish has become, sadly and apparently, old school. So some advice. This is not exhaustive. You might not like it. You might find it really helpful. If you want, place your own suggestions in the comments. I would love to read about how you help your students do this difficult work.

  1.  All historical writing begins with a question.  All good historical writing answers that question.  All good historical writing contains a thesis or an argument.  A sound thesis will provide an answer to the question under investigation briefly, in a sentence or two.  The rest of the text, whether it is a term paper, a dissertation, an article or a book, will demonstrate how that one sentence thesis is true.
  2. Some questions are better than other. Ideally, you will ask a new question, or answer an old question in a new way, or apply a broad question to a more narrow case where you can become an expert over that some piece of a larger whole. We value your perspectives and trust your creativity. When we read your papers, we hope to learn from you.
  3. All good historians read the footnotes or endnotes. Indeed, we are the people who read the notes.  We take notes on the footnotes, making sure we record sources, primary and secondary, that may be useful to us in our own work. We like footnotes to a degree that it makes some people uncomfortable.
  4. All good historians are interdisciplinary, or willing to become interdisciplinary. Historians are willing to do the grunt work for the other social science and humanities disciplines that are related to our fields.  
  5. Historians question nearly everything about the work of other historians. Historians are prone to disbelief—we are critical readers, and we should be ready to question all assumptions.
  6. Historians are relentless in their quest for sources, secondary and primary, and they recognize that the work of gathering sources and creating a bibliography is one that is never completely finished.
  7. No, you do not yet have enough sources.
  8. When your professor tells you to check out one source or another, you are obligated to do so.  It is not an option.  If you look at that source, and do not know how to make sense of it, it is your responsibility to learn, or to ask for help from your professor or from a library professional who might assist you. Those of us who are decent people love to talk to you about sources. Some of us especially love when you can explain why a source we recommend to you is not helpful. See? You are teaching us new stuff.
  9. Do not quote secondary sources unless your source says something so astoundingly clever that you cannot possibly do without it.  Leave historians in the footnotes. Some academic disciplines are really into quoting scholars. “As Dirk Broadaxe said in Logjam, his seminal monograph about lumberjacks…” and so on. It’s pretentious, does not read well, and, you know, footnotes. They are right there at the bottom of the page.
  10. History is a discipline.  There are rules.  Research papers should be formatted according to standards included in the Turabian Manual. If you do not know what the Turabian Manual is, you must learn.  Even if it seems to you that it is stupid. We are members of an undisciplined discipline, but you need to conform to some of these base level expectations. You must take the time to learn to format your footnotes and bibliography according to Turabian’s standards.  This is not optional.  It is required.
  11. As Collingwood said, (see above, No. 9), “nothing capable of being memorized is history.”
  12. Treat words like they cost you money.
  13. People with bad grammar hate America.

We Live on Stolen Lands, Part IV: The Machinations of the Ogden Land Company

No organization played so energetic a role in the efforts to remove and dispossess the New York Indians as the Ogden Land Company. The Ogden Company’s determination to remove the Seneca Indians would develop into a broader movement to effect the relocation of all the Iroquois from the state, and open their lands to settlement and development. Even as it called for Indian removal, however, the representatives of the Ogden Company recognized that they must pay attention to the requirements of federal law as embodied in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts.

David A. Ogden

I find it troubling that students in New York schools learn about the “Cherokee Removal” in their American history classes, but they hear nothing about efforts to drive the Indigenous people of New York to new homes somewhere in the west. New York’s Indian removals began long before Andrew Jackson became President and continued after he left.  It is the story of a conspiracy of interests, as Laurence Hauptman put it, that brought together wealthy businessmen, avaricious politicians, and corruptible federal agents.  It is a truly sordid story, and some of it played out in Geneseo where I teach. The Wadsworth family, after whom an important building on campus was named, has mansions on both ends of Main Street. Their money came from Seneca land, and they were in at the ground floor in as Ogden Company investors.

David A. Ogden, the company’s founder and president, purchased from the Holland Land Company in 1810 the pre-emptive rights to the Seneca reservations remaining to the tribe after the Big Tree Treaty of 1797, nearly 200,000 acres for fifty cents an acre.  To pay his debt, Ogden created an association of extraordinarily well-connected investors. They moved quickly to exercise that right. They would clear the Senecas out of western New York, gobble up their reservations, and sell the lands to settlers.

Ogden and his associates, it is essential to point out, thoroughly understood the requirements of the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, even if they wished the laws were not around to hinder their efforts. This is an important point: determined to drive out the Indians, the Ogden Company officials understood nonetheless that they must comply with federal laws. Robert Troup, one of the Company’s most active members, told the interpreter and federal agent Jasper Parrish in 1810 that the Company, in its attempt to acquire Seneca lands, would “leave everything in the hands of the Agents of the General Government, in full confidence that the Agents will do everything in their power, according to their instructions from the Government, to induce the Indians to accept of a grant of land to the west.” Nothing like friends in high places.

            The state of New York provided the Ogden Company with important assistance. In April of 1812, Governor Daniel Tompkins asked Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts “to cause a Superintendent to be appointed” for “holding a treaty with the native Indians for the purchase of their right in a part of the said [Holland Purchase] lands.” Two years later, Tompkins wrote to Secretary of War James Monroe, informing him that the Ogden Company requested the appointment of a federal commissioner. Tompkins told Monroe that “you will perceive that the State of New York is to have no agency in the contemplated treaty, & that the agent or Commissioner requested to be appointed by the United States is wanted for the purpose” of allowing the Ogden Company “to make a legal convention with the Seneca nation of Indians.”

            In March of 1818, Ogden told Governor DeWitt Clinton that Seneca opposition to removal resulted from the machinations of “designing men” who opposed his plan. Busy-body missionaries were getting in the way.  “The importance of obtaining a seat for our Indians to the west, and to which they may gradually retire,” Ogden wrote, “cannot be doubted.” If Clinton wondered why Ogden was contacting him, the land speculator pointed out “that the interest of the state of New York, in my opinion, is more deeply implicated in the removal of these Indians, than that of any individual interested in the preemption of their lands.” Might as well admit it, Ogden suggested: we all want to drive the Senecas from New York State.

            The Ogden Company wanted to remove the Senecas to some location in the west. Troup thought some spot west of the Mississippi, like Arkansas, would be best, but failing that someplace in the northwest, like the Michigan Territory “in the neighborhood of Green Bay,” would do. The Company called upon its allies for help.  With Company support, Parrish began the long trip to Washington early in 1817. Once there, he attempted to persuade the new Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, that removal was in the Indians’ best interest.  The Six Nations reservations in the state, Parrish said,

are more or less surrounded by Settlements of whites, in consequence of which there are frequent depredations, petty thefts, and trespasses committed between whites and Indians.  Most frequently on the part of the former. It causes the agents considerable time and trouble to settle with and  satisfy the injured person, so as to preserve our peace and friendship unbroken. Under these circumstances I think it would be for the interest of the United States, and also for the wellfare and the happiness of the Six Nations could they be persuaded to concentrate themselves.

It is an old story. Local settlers pressed upon Indians and their lands in defiance of the law. Parrish saw removal as a means to protect the Indians from the citizens of the state of New York, who encroached upon their lands, stole their possessions, and threatened the safety of all concerned. We needed to remove the Indians to save them. 

            The Company’s directors also called upon Lewis Cass, the territorial governor of Michigan, to help remove the Senecas.  Cass, in letters to federal agent Erastus Granger and Ogden, expressed a willingness to help, but suggested that if the Company were to succeed, it would need the support of federal officials in Washington.  Ogden, as well, asked Peter B. Porter, “one of the greatest promoters of the rise of western New York,” and an associate of the Company, to eliminate the problems caused by two unnamed white men who lived in the vicinity of Buffalo and who counseled the Senecas not to sell their lands.  If these men have influence, Ogden suggested, “it might possibly be advisable, to take means to quiet them.”

Ogden painted a bleak picture of the Senecas’ future.  The Senecas, Ogden reported, were unwilling to part with any of their lands, and this created a variety of problems.  “It has been the wise and constant policy of Government,” Ogden wrote in 1819,

to restrain the Indians from selling or leasing their lands to unauthorized individuals, and hence their reserved tracts remain principally uncleared.  The extensive forests operate as a barrier to the progress of improvement.  They are not subject to taxation and are made to contribute neither towards the expenses of roads or any other object of public utility. In proportion therefore as they can be withdrawn by proper means from the unprofitable occupation of the Natives and rendered acceptable to cultivation and settlement, they must add to the general prosperity and resources of the State.

The Senecas, he continued, based their resistance on the Canandaigua Treaty, a sophisticated notion that Ogden believed simple-minded Indians could not possibly have arrived at on their own.  The Senecas, he believed, incapable of thinking for themselves, had been duped by the deceptions of “designing” white men and those “intent on evangelizing this savage people.”

            An appeal to benevolence followed.  Removal of the Indians, Ogden argued, certainly would benefit the “Proprietors,” but it also would benefit the Indians.  “The History of every Indian tribe on the Atlantic Coast,” Ogden wrote, “proves that they cannot long exist in their savage character in the Neighborhood of civilized Society, that becoming partly Christian, partly Pagan, partly civilized, and partly savage, they are rendered more and more debased and degenerate and finally become extinct, without having rendered themselves capable of any national enjoyment, or having contributed in any degree, to the stock of the public good.”  Wiping away his crocodile tears, Ogden’s tone became increasingly urgent, and he hoped that the President would get his point: “The Savage,” Ogden said, “must and ought to yield to the civilized state, and that this change cannot be effected otherwise than by the Agency of the Government.” 

            Ogden found kindred spirits as well in the New York State Legislature.   Indeed, a committee of the New York State legislature reported early in 1819 that concentration was a desirable goal.  Alcohol ravaged the Indians, and squatters overran their lands, a problem “highly injurious to the interests of the State.” The conclusion was obvious: it was time for a change in policy. Regarding the Indians, the committee reported

 that their independence as a nation ought to cease, that they ought to yield to the public interest, and by a proper application of power they ought to be brought within the pale of civilization and law and if left to themselves will never reach that condition; that such bodies retaining such savage traits ought not to be in an independent condition and that our laws and manners ought to succeed theirs; suitable quantities of lands to be reserved for them.

The State Senate, shortly afterwards, requested that the governor “cooperate with the Government of the United States in such measures . . . to induce the several Indian tribes within this State to concentrate themselves in some suitable situation.”  The Senate, however, in a statement that aptly characterized the state’s approach to dealing with its Indians, insisted that the Governor take these actions “either with or without the cooperation of the government of the United States.”

            Rhetoric such as this from the New York State Legislature mirrored the arguments occurring at the same time in the southern states, where a states’ rights variant of constitutionalism developed and was nourished in disputes over federal Indian policy. As the federal government and its agents among the Creeks and Cherokees sought to protect the Indians from the aggression of their neighbors, and as missionaries and philanthropists sought their “civilization” and “improvement,” southern state legislatures and southern state courts argued that all who resided within a state, including Indians, must conform to its laws.  The Marshall Court, later, would reject this limited federalism, but southerners had the power to largely ignore officials of the national government. The resolution of 1819 shows that New York’s political leaders were developing a similar states’ rights ideology.

            After laying all the groundwork, Ogden requested of Secretary of War Calhoun “that a commissioner may be appointed to hold a treaty with all or any of the Tribes composing the Six Nations of Indians residing in this State.”  Calhoun appointed Morris Miller to serve as federal agent “in a treaty which the Proprietors of the Seneca Reservation in the State of New York wish to hold with that nation.”

John C. Calhoun

            Calhoun believed whole-heartedly in the philanthropic justifications for removal, but at the same time he believed that the practice of treating with Indians was a flawed and dated practice. The national government protected the Indians, Calhoun believed, and “is their best friend.” The Indians depended on the United States like a child relied upon its parents.  Calhoun believed that the Indians had not flourished in their homelands, and that they had picked up the vices, but none of the virtues, of the surrounding white population.  In this sense, removal seemed to Calhoun a logical solution to the new nation’s “Indian Problem.”  If Indians relocated to the western side of the Mississippi River they would distance themselves from the unsavory influence of frontier whites, and gain additional time to become “civilized.” He believed that the United States, rather than the tribes themselves, should decide what was in the Indians’ best interest.  He hoped that they would see the value of removal; at the same time, Calhoun believed strongly that removal could not be forced and that under law, the United States must oversee the process of Indian land sales. At least as long as it was convenient to do so.

            Aware that they had the support of the federal government, the Ogden associates played their cards carefully.  The object was limited: concentrate the Senecas at Allegany, and open their other lands to white settlement.  The best thing the Company could do, William Troup told Jasper Parrish, is “to be perfectly still, and to make no appearance whatever” at the Council, and “to leave everything entirely in the hands of the Commissioners of the General Government, in full confidence that the Agents will do every thing in their power, according to their instructions from the government, to induce the Indians to accept of a grant of land to the West.”

            Morris Miller, the United States agent, did try to persuade the Senecas to remove. He claimed to have the best interests of the Indians at heart. He told the Senecas that “I am not in any way instructed, pledged or interested to promote the views of the white men, where these views are prejudiciall to the rights of the red men.” Nonetheless, Morris’s boss, the Indians’ “Great Father,”

sees you scattered here and there, in small parcels everywhere, surrounded by white people. He sees that you are fast losing your national character, and are daily more and more exposed to the bad examples of your white Brothers, without the restraint of their laws  and religion. He sees that this frequent and uncontrolled intercourse, instead of doing good is doing injury to you and to them. Your great Father sees all these things, with grief and concern. He lays them much to heart; and thinks it impossible for you, under such circumstances, to retain the character of an independent nation.

The Great Father looked after his white children as well, Morris continued, and from them he heard of their dissatisfaction

at seeing the lands in your occupation remain wild and uncultivated; neither paying taxes, nor assisting to make roads and other improvements; nor in any way contributing to the public burthens, as white peoples’ lands do. Your Great Father has been further informed that you occupy more land  than you can advantageously till, or use for any valuable purpose; whilst at this same time the scarcity of game         prevents your engaging in those pursuits, to which your fathers were accustomed.

The solution was simple. The President, Morris told the Senecas, desires “that you should live at a greater distance from white people, so that you may be more secure in the enjoyment of your property. And that he can with greater convenience, and less expense cause you to be instructed in agriculture, and the useful arts; and your children to be taught to read and write, and that your nation may thus be rendered an industrious and happy people.”

            The Senecas, divided among traditionalists and those more willing to selectively adopt elements of white culture, rallied together to oppose cessions of Seneca land.  Quaker missionaries, too, supported the Senecas.  The Quakers argued that concentration at Allegheny would undermine the Friends’ efforts to Christianize and civilize the Senecas at Buffalo Creek, and that there was not an adequate supply of land at Allegheny to support all the Senecas.  The Quakers, in fact, long had opposed the Ogden Company’s agenda.  In 1817, for instance, the Society of Friends delivered a message “to the Chiefs and other Indians on the Allegany Reservation,” advising them that “the land on which you live is your own—and you know it to be good and some of it well-improved . . . It cannot be taken from you without your consent.”

            Timothy Pickering advised the Quakers on methods to help the Senecas hang on to their lands. “Knowing as I do,” he wrote,

the rapacity of some men among the Whites, I am not surprised at the attempts to seduce the Chiefs to sell the seats from under themselves, and their people. It is in the power of the government to defeat these attempts.  But artful men may apply to it for the  appointment of a commissioner to hold a treaty, and by false but plausible representations, and perhaps, too, aided by certificates of men apparently disinterested, obtain this request.

Pickering suggested to the Quakers that they have “the chiefs and all their people assemble in council, and enter into an agreement, never to sell their lands, or any part of them, without the assent of the warriors or grown men, as well as of the chiefs.” Further, Pickering reminded the Quakers that “by laws enacted from the year 1790 to 1802, no purchase of Indians’ land are valid, unless made at a treaty held under the authority of the United States.” Pickering’s statement shows that he understood that the federal government had a responsibility to protect Indian land from territorially aggressive interests in the states, and that stopping these forces, even with the support of the laws of the national government, would not be an easy task.

            Led by Red Jacket, the Senecas refused to sell to the Ogden Company in 1819, and their rejection “was so unqualified and so peremptory, as to forbid all reasonable expectation that any good purpose could be effected by adjourning the council,” Miller wrote, and so “it was therefore finally closed.”

            There can be no question that the United States gave aid and encouragement to the Ogden Land Company, those “artful men” so determined to acquire Seneca land in western New York.  The important point for our purposes, however, is that however reprehensible the practices of the Company, it recognized the rules of the game as spelled out in the Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, and actively requested the involvement of the United States to ensure the legality of its purchases.  It is unfortunate that New York State did not exercise the same due diligence.

Haudenosaunee History, Spring 2024

It has been many years since I last taught the history of the Iroquois, even though nearly all of my research the past ten years has been focused on them. During the Obama years, I offered this course every fourth semester or so but, more recently, I moved in other directions because there were so many other demands on my teaching time. That is what I told myself. The truth is that I find this an immensely challenging course to teach. It is directed towards juniors and seniors, but few of them will have had any previous exposure to Haudenosaunee history. Upper-division courses in Geneseo’s History Department tend to be more narrowly focused, but this course covers five hundred years of history. It is a paradox, a challenge, and frankly it is intimidating to teach. There is loads of bad information about the Haudenosaunee. I want to make sure that what I expose the students to is of value. I offer them little more than a sampling of a rich, diverse, and complicated history, and after a long time away from teaching this course, I am eager once again to face the challenges it presents. I would love to hear your thoughts. I am sure I am not the only history professor who feels daunted by the gravity of the subject they teach.

After all, students at Geneseo could have seen this Territorial Acknowledgment in one of the athletic buildings. New York students learn hardly anything about Indigenous peoples, their history, and their culture.

History 465                  Iroquois History from Prehistory to Present        Spring 2024     

Instructor: Michael Oberg

Meetings, MW, 10:30-12:10, Bailey 246


Office: MW 12:30-1:30, Doty 208


Required Readings:

Roger Carpenter, The Renewed, the Destroyed, and the Remade, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004).

Laurence M. Hauptman, Conspiracy of Interests: Iroquois Dispossession and the Rise of New York State,   (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

Michael Leroy Oberg, Peacemakers: The Iroquois, the United States, and the Treaty of Canandaigua, 1794, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

David L. Preston, The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009)   

Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

Readings online and on Brightspace

Course Description:

            In this course we will cover the history of the native peoples who formed the Iroquois League and Confederacy, from the time of their first contact with Europeans through the present-day controversies that occur across the state.  We will look at the formation of the League, the consequences of Iroquois involvement in the European Wars of Empire, and the rapid dispossession of the Iroquois in the decades that followed the American Revolution.  We will look at the application of various government policies in the United States and Canada to the Iroquois, and how the Iroquois have reacted to and adapted to these changes.  Throughout, we will keep in mind the different histories of the constituent Iroquois communities that occupy present-day New York, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Canada.

            Your grade for the course will be based on the following assignments: 

  1. Journals: On seven occasions during the semester I will read your journals.  I want you to think about what you are reading and 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 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. Use your journal as an opportunity to reflect on the contents of one of the documents you have read. Show me that you are thinking about the material we cover in our readings and in the classroom.  Discuss the challenges you are confronting as you work on your research paper. Write each entry in the spirit of an essay, with a thesis and evidence to support your reasoning.  The due dates—always on a Friday, always on Brightspace—are listed below
  2. Research Paper: I expect all students enrolled in this course to complete a research paper of approximately 15-20 pages in length, based upon primary source research and a thorough grounding in the secondary source literature.  I urge you to visit with me regularly during office hours as the semester progresses, to ensure that your research project develops as it should. You will work on your paper in stages, completing preliminary assignments along the way towards the completion of a final draft. Those components are as follows:

a). Question and Sources: In this one-page paper, you will state the question you hope to investigate for your research paper. You should list the sources you think you will need to answer that question in a bibliography that follows the format of the Turabian Manual. Due on Brightspace February 5th

b). Topic Statement: A more-refined and specific statement of the topic you would like to research and the sources you will need to answer your specific historical question.  Due on Brightspace, February 19th.

c). Thesis statement and outline. Due on Brightspace, April 1st.

d). Hard Copy of Draft to be turned in at end of class on April 22nd.

e). Hard Copy of Final Paper, due on May 8th at end of class period.

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 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.

  • Participation: I assign a large quantity of reading.  I expect each of you to participate regularly in our class discussions. To receive a strong grade in this course, you must speak up in class. The discussion questions, below, are intended to serve as a guide to help you with the reading assignments.  If you are able to answer these questions, you should be able to participate without much difficulty. Participation is much, much more than attendance.

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. Much of the reading for this course will be online or available on Brightspace. You will need to bring your laptop to class, but I expect you to use it for class-related work only.  Students who violate these policies will be asked to leave the class.

Lecture/Discussion Schedule

22 January        Introduction to the Course: The Importance of the Iroquois

Reading: Carpenter, Renewed, xi-xxii; Preston, Texture, Acknowledgments, and Introduction; Oberg, Peacemakers, Acknowledgments and Introduction; Hauptman, Conspiracy, Preface; Simpson, Mohawk, Acknowledgments and Chapter One. Visit some of the websites of Iroquois communities in New York State, such as:

            Seneca Nation of Indians

            Onondaga Nation

            Cayuga Nation

            Oneida Indian Nation

            St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Also worth your time is the web project entitled Chenussio: An Indigenous History of Livingston County. If you know nothing about the history of the Iroquois, the “Overview of Seneca History” might be useful (the sections are meant to be opened left to right, beginning on the top row). It focuses only on the Senecas, but the larger themes will be important for you to know. Be sure to click on the Livingston County First Nations Sites on the landing page, to learn a bit more about the area in which you are studying.


For Discussion: What do you know to be true about the Iroquois in New York,  Canada, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma?  What do you learn about the scholars you will be reading this semester from reading the front matter in their books? What are your thoughts about the grading agreement at the back end of the syllabus? Do you feel it is fair and, if not, in what ways might we work together to improve it?

24 January        Tales of Creation

Reading:  Carpenter, Renewed, Chapter 1; Kuhn and Sempowski, “A New Approach to Dating the League of the Iroquois,” American Antiquity, 66, No. 2, (April 2001), 301-314; Christopher Vecsey, “The Story and Structure of the Iroquois Confederacy,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 54 (Spring 1986), 79-106; John Arthur Gibson, Concerning the League: The Iroquois League Tradition as Dictated in Onondaga, ed. And trans, Hani Woodbury, in collaboration with Reg Henry and HarryWebster. Algonquian and Iroquoian Linguistics. Memoir No. 9, (Winnipeg, 1992). (All on Brightspace).

For Discussion: What are the key elements, concepts, and values that emerge from the creation stories of the Iroquois? What are the most important themes in the Deganawidah Epic? How did the League form and how does that information help us understand the Iroquois League?

29 January        The League and Early European Contacts

Reading: Carpenter, Renewed, Chapter 2; David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 317-342; Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, “A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635,” in In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives about a Native People, eds. Dean R. Snow, Charles T. Gehring, and William A. Starna, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996) (on Brightspace)

For Discussion:  How did Iroquois apply the lessons and values of the Deganawidah Epic in their relations with other peoples? How would you characterize exchange and trade between Iroquois people and the early European settlers? Was it primarily an economic relationship, or something else?  What thesis is Carpenter arguing?

31 January        The Destruction of Huronia

Reading:Carpenter, Renewed, Chapters 3-4, 8-9. (You should skim Chapters 5-7  closely enough that you understand how the French in general, and the Jesuits specifically, altered the Wendat thought world. We will come back to Chapters 5-7 in detail later).

For Discussion:  What significance do we attach to the Iroquois warfare that took place between 1634 and 1649?  

2 February       Journal 1 Due on Brightspace

5 February       The Mourning Wars

Reading: Daniel K. Richter, “War and Culture: The Iroquois Experience,” WMQ 40 (October 1983), 528-559; Jose António Brandǎo, “Iroquois Expansion in the Seventeenth Century: A Review of Causes,” Native American Studies, 15 (2001), 7-18 (Brightspace).

Question and Sources Due! On Brightspace

For Discussion: In what ways do Richter and Brandǎo differ in their interpretation of Haudenosaunee warfare in the second half of the seventeenth-century?

7 February       The Covenant Chain

Reading: Jon Parmenter, “After the Mourning Wars: The Iroquois as Allies in Colonial North American Campaigns, 1676-1760,” William and Mary Quarterly, 64 (January 2007), 39-76

For Discussion: How did the Covenant Chain alliance benefit the Five Nations? How did it benefit the English?  Did it benefit certain English more than others?  What was the nature of this alliance? How did it work? How important is the Covenant Chain for understanding the history of European colonialism in 17th Century America?

12 February      Christians and Iroquois

Reading:  Carpenter, Renewed, Chapters 5-7; Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 1; The Jesuit Relations: Natives and Missionaries in Seventeenth-Century North America, ed. Allan Greer, (Boston: Bedford, 2000), Chapters 6-7.

For Discussion: What did it mean to the Jesuit Fathers for one to be a Christian?  How did the Jesuit Fathers view the religion of the Five Nations and the Wendats? Be prepared to discuss the nature of Iroquois Christianity.

14 February      To the “Grand Settlement” of 1701

Reading: Brandao, J. A. and William A. Starna, “The Treaties of 1701: A Triumph of Iroquois Diplomacy,” Ethnohistory, 43 (Spring 1996), 209-244.

 For Discussion: What was the significance of the treaties of 1701? 

16 February       Journal 2 Due on Brightspace

19 February      The Haudenosaunee and the English Empire in America

Reading: Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapter 1; Parmenter, “’L’Arbre de Paix’: Eighteenth-Century Franco-Iroquois Relations,” French Colonial History, 4 (2003), 63-80.

For Discussion: Are the eighteenth-century Iroquois best characterized as subjects of the English empire or as allies of the Empire? How does one best characterize the functioning of the Covenant Chain? How would you characterize the Haudenosaunee relationship with New France?

Topic Statement Due!

21 February      Brother Onas

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 3

Kurt A. Jordan, “Seneca Iroquois Settlement Pattern, Community Structure, and Housing, 1677-1779,” Northeast Anthropology, 67 (2004), 23-64.

For Discussion: Describe the Importance of Pennsylvania to the Iroquois.

26 February       Economic Life in Iroquoia in the Middle of the Eighteenth Century

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 2                  

For discussion: Last time we briefly discussed Kurt Jordan’s important archaeological work on Seneca settlement patterns.  Based on your reading of Preston, how would you characterize the relationship of Iroquois peoples with the larger colonial economy? Are they dependent on the colonists? Did they manage to preserve a degree of autonomy in their relations with outsiders?  How does one characterize this “frontier”?

28 February      The Albany Congress and Mounting Tensions in Pennsylvania

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapter 4; Levy, “Exemplars of Taking Liberties.”

For Discussion:  Haudenosaunee people emphasize the importance of the Covenant Chain. Are they correct to do so? What were the sources of conflict for Iroquois peoples in the middle of the eighteenth century?

1 March            Journal 3 Due on Brightspace

4 March           The Great War for Empire

Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Chapters 5-6

For Discussion:  What were the causes of Great War and how did the conflict between France and Great Britain for control of North America impact Haudenosaunee peoples in the Ohio Country, Pennsylvania, and the western parts of today’s New York?

6 March           The Haudenosaunee and the American Revolution

                        Reading: Preston, Texture of Contact, Epilogue; Oberg, Peacemakers, Ch 2.                      

For Discussion: To what extent was the American Revolution a civil war for the Six Nations?  What factors influenced the reactions of Iroquoian peoples to the outbreak of fighting between American Patriots and British soldiers? In what ways did the Revolution matter to the Iroquois? Was it a significant event? Did it merely continue the assaults on Iroquois lands that began long before the Revolution?  In what ways did the Revolution impact the Iroquois?

Spring Break

18 March          The Post-Revolutionary Diaspora

Reading: Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapters 3-8 and Appendix.

For Discussion: How did the State of New York and the United States claim and exercise jurisdiction over the Iroquois homeland?  How would you characterize federal Indian policy in the years immediately following the American Revolution? How significant an accomplishment was the Treaty of Canandaigua?

20 March          New York’s Assault on Iroquois Land

Reading:  Oberg, Peacemakers, Chapter 9 and Conclusion; Hauptman, Conspiracy, Introduction, Part One

For Discussion:  To what extent was New York engaging in illegal activity when it seized native lands? What was New York’s interest in the dispossession of the Iroquois? What factors made the Iroquois particularly susceptible to attempts to dispossess them? What happened at the treaty council held in 1795? How do you account the willingness of the Oneidas, Onondagas and Cayugas to sign treaties ceding land to the state of New York?

22 March           Journal 4 Due on Brightspace

25 March          Seneca Land

Reading: Hauptman, Conspiracy, Chapters 7-8; Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Iroquois, reprint ed., (New York: Citadel Press, 1962), Part II, Chapter III

For Discussion: What was Handsome Lake’s message? Of what elements did it consist of? What changed as a result of Handsome Lake’s teachings? What, to Dennis, is the fundamental importance of the Handsome Lake religion?

27 March          Seneca Land, Continued

Reading: Hauptman, Conspiracy, Chapters 9-10

For Discussion:  Why did the Senecas agree to sell their land?  Describe the nature of the relationship between Quaker missionaries and the Seneca Indians. How did the Senecas make use of the Quakers’ message? What did the Quakers and Senecas hope to achieve through their relationship with the other?

1 April              The Iroquois and Indian Removal

Reading: Oberg, Professional Indian: The American Odyssey of Eleazer Williams, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), Chapter 3, Brightspace.

For Discussion: What force or forces were most responsible for the “removal” of the New York Indians?

Thesis Statement and Outline Due!

3 April              The Seneca Revolution of 1848

Reading: Henry Schoolcraft’s Notes on the Iroquois, Chapter One; Documents on the Seneca Revolution.

For Discussion:  To what extent was the Seneca Revolution consistent with the new Seneca Nation’s understanding of its earlier treaties with the United States?  How significant an expression of Iroquois sovereignty was the new Seneca Nation government? Indeed, what is the meaning of the Seneca Revolution?

5 April              Journal 5 Due on Brightspace

8 April              Solar Eclipse—No Class.

10 April             The Iroquois and the Civil War

                        The Thomas School and Carlisle

Reading:  Laurence Hauptman, The Iroquois in the Civil War: From Battlefield to Reservation, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), Chapter One; Carlisle Student Records, available here. Under the “Nation” pull-down menu, search for student records from the Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Tuscaroras, Mohawks and Cayugas.  Read at least five student files.  What can you learn about the Iroquois experience at Carlisle from these records?

For Discussion: The involvement of native peoples in the American Civil War has been an understudied aspect of this important event in American history. How did Iroquois peoples respond to the outbreak of the American Civil War? Was the Civil War actually an event for Haudenosaunee peoples? What impact did it have upon them?

15 April            The Legal Status of the Six Nations: Allotment, the Kansas Claims, and the Everett Commission

Reading: New York State Legislature.  Assembly Doc. No. 51.  Report of the Special Committee to Investigate the Indian Problem of the State of New York, Appointed by the Assembly of 1888, 2 vols. (Albany: Troy Press, 1889) (excerpts); Arthur C. Parker, “The Legal Status of the American Indian;” Everett Commission Report, pp 2-14

 For Discussion: Many Haudenosaunee see the Everett Commission Report as a document of great significance.  Why?

17 April             Citizenship and the State

Reading: Sidney L. Harring, “Red Lilac of the Cayugas: Traditional Indian Law and Culture Conflict in a Witchcraft Trial in Buffalo, New York, 1930,” New York History 73 (1992), 65-94; Indian Citizenship Act (1924); Indian Reorganization Act (1934); Documents on Death Feasts (All on Brightspace).

For Discussion: Who killed Cothilde Marchand, and why should we care? Why did the Iroquois, in general, oppose the Indian Reorganization Act?

19 April            Journal 6 Due on Brightspace

22 April            Iroquois in the Era of World War II


At the New York State Library website, look at one of the following documents. All of them relate to issues facing the Haudenosaunee during the Second World War and are influenced by federal debates about the policy of termination, and whether or not the State of New York ought to have criminal and civil jurisdiction over Indian reservations in New York State.

1). Public Hearing had at Salamanca, New York Court Room, City Hall, August 4-5, 1945.

 2).  Public Hearing had at Thomas Indian School, Cattaraugus Reservation,  N.Y., Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1943

3).  Hearing Before the Joint Committee on Indian Affairs on Thursday, Jan. 4, 1945 at Ten Eyck Hotel, Albany, N.Y.

For Discussion:  Based on your skimming of the above documents, and your close reading of one of them, how would you characterize the challenges facing the Iroquois during the early 1940s?

Hard Copy of Draft Due!

24 April            GREAT DAY: No Classes

29 April            The Haudenosaunee in the Post-War Era

Reading Laurence Hauptman, “Where the Patridge Drums: Ernest Benedict, Mohawk Intellectual as Activist,” in Seven Generations of Iroquois Leadership, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2008). We will watch together in class “Lake of Betrayal,” a film about Kinzua Dam and the flooding of the Senecas’ Allegany Reservation.

For Discussion: Based on the three essays I have asked you to read, how would you describe the principal issues facing the Mohawks and Senecas in the post-war era?  How would you characterize Seneca and Mohawk responses to the challenges they faced?

1 May               The Six Nations and Red Power

Reading:  Hauptman, “The Iroquois on the Road to Wounded Knee,” in The Iroquois Struggle for Survival: World War II to Red Power, 1986); “Basic Call to Consciousness;” Film, “Lake of Betrayal.”

For Discussion:  What has the era of “Self-Determination” meant to the Six Nations? What significance do you attach to Iroquois efforts to recover their stolen lands?

3 May               Journal 7 Due on Brightspace

6 May               Haudenosaunee Nationhood

Reading: Simpson, Mohawk, Chapters 2-4

For Discussion: What obstacles to a meaningful nationhood still face the people of the Longhouse?

8 May               Final Class Meeting: Indigenous Nationhood in the Future

For Discussion: Finish reading Simpson, Mohawk; Town of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation (2005).

Term Papers Due!

14 May             8:00-11:20. Final Exam Period: Individual Meetings to discuss your final grade.

A Note on the Term Paper:

            Our humble temporary library contains an extraordinary amount of material for conducting research in Iroquois history.  Most importantly, we have a copy of the Iroquois Indians Microfilm Collection, compiled in the 1980s by the Newberry Library in Chicago. This fifty-reel collection includes copies of nearly every important document related to Iroquois relations with outsiders, a vast collection covering the period from the early seventeenth- through to the end of the nineteenth century from libraries throughout North America and Europe.  Using the Iroquois Indians Microfilm collection has spared me the necessity of making numerous research trips to Albany, Ottawa, and Buffalo.  We subscribe to many of the journals and own many of the books mentioned in the excellent bibliographies included in the back of the Hauptman, Taylor, and Shannon books (Richter’s bibliography is excellent as well, though his book is now a bit dated—he is a great place to start, but you will need to look elsewhere).   For those of you interested in the Revolutionary period, we have the entire run of the Papers of the Continental Congress. The library’s Genesee Valley Collection is especially strong on the history of the Senecas, as is the phenomenal range of materials housed at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.   The Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester has many of the materials that our library does not have.  Many papers documenting early relations between the United States and the Six Nations can be found at the “Century of Lawmaking” website at the Library of Congress. Both the New York State Library and the New York State Archives, on their respective websites, have made an intriguing selection of documents readily available to those who cannot travel to Albany to conduct research. Additionally, I have copies of the federal records dealing with the Iroquois through the middle of the nineteenth century. These I will put on reserve should any of you be interested.  And with Google Books and the resources placed online by the New York State Archives and New York State Library, an enormous amount of primary source material is readily available to you.  Indeed, the most important New York State collections of documents (the Hough Collection, the Whipple Report, and the Everett Report) are all available online.  The “Digital Turn” in the Humanities has resulted in large numbers of archival and manuscript collections being placed online.  It is easier to do significant research than ever before.  But only if you start early, work diligently, and seek help in overcoming the roadblocks you inevitably will face.

            If you have no idea what to choose as the topic for your research paper, I encourage you to look at websites like INDIANZ.COM, and use the search feature to look up articles that have appeared in North American newspapers in recent months on Iroquois communities. Consider the individual New York Iroquois communities, or the Oneidas in Wisconsin or the Seneca-Cayugas of Oklahoma.   Perhaps you could look into the historical background of some present-day controversies.  You can also read through Volume 15 of the Smithsonian Handbook of Americans, located in the reference section of our library. Included are a number of useful articles on the history of the Iroquois League, and of the different Iroquois communities in New York, Canada, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.  The listing of primary sources in this old handbook is still quite useful, and reading it can give you a thumbnail sketch of Iroquois history and perhaps focus your attention on something you would like to investigate further.  If none of these endeavors pan out, please feel free to read ahead: perhaps some of the readings that we will discuss late in the semester will suggest to you lines of inquiry that would make for a fine paper. I have compiled a 600+ page annotated bibliography on Onondaga Nation history.  I have placed a copy of that bibliography on my departmental webpage.

            The best advice I can give you about the research paper is to stop by during office hours, email me, or talk to me after class.  You probably cannot have too much guidance, and I encourage you to visit with me if you have any concerns about the research paper. If this class goes according to plan, you will produce a research project that we both learn from, and I am more than willing to help you achieve that goal. Do not hesitate to ask for help.  AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PROCRASTINATE!  The most successful students decide upon and begin work on a narrowly focused and well-conceived project early in the semester.

Integrative and Applied Learning Outcomes at SUNY Geneseo: Your research project and journal writing are intended to develop in you the following skills:

  • Structured, Intentional, and Authentic Experiences​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include a course syllabus or learning contract between parties and should have hands-on and/or real-world elements.
  • Preparation, Orientation, and Training​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include sufficient background and foundational education and should include expectations that are expressed as learning outcomes that structure the experience and ongoing work.
  • Monitoring and Continuous Improvement​: Integrative and applied learning experiences should include in-experience mechanisms for feedback, course correction, quality monitoring, and evaluation of progress towards the state learning outcomes.
  • Structured Reflection​: Integrative and applied learning should include opportunities for students to self-assess, analyze, and examine their experience and to evaluate the outcomes. Reflection should demonstrate relevance and should form connections with previous experiences and/or future planning as well as a demonstration of one of Geneseo’s core values: Civic Engagement, Sustainability, Inclusivity, Learning, or Creativity.
  • Evaluation​: Students must receive appropriate and timely feedback from the project organizer.

Some Potential Term Paper Topics For Those Who Need Suggestions

*           The history of a particular Jesuit Mission to a particular Haudenosaunee Nation.

*           The dispossession treaties of 1788 or 1795.  You cannot do all the treaties well, but you could do a very good paper on one of the individual treaty councils.

*           The 1924 Citizenship Act

*           The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act

*           The Mid-Twentieth Century “Spite Bills” that extended New York’s jurisdiction over the Iroquois.

*           Onondaga Death Feast controversies in the 1920s and 1930s.

*           Efforts to allot Haudenosaunee land carried out by New York State late in the 19th century

*           The Haudenosaunee and the United Nations. You will want to narrow this down, but there is a story to tell here.

*           Deskaheh (Levi General) and the League of Nations.

*           Haudenosaunee students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

*           Chenussio in the 17th or 18th century.

*           Onondagas and efforts to clean up Onondaga Lake, for a time the most polluted body of water in North America.

*           19th-century agriculture on Haudenosaunee reservations in New York.

*           The Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1838.  There are a number of things here you might focus on.

*           The death of Big Tree early in the 1790s.

*           Urban Iroquois: Haudenosaunee people in Buffalo, Rochester, or Syracuse.

*           Haudenosaunee circus performers, late 19th, early 20th century.

*           The “Indian Village” at the New York State Fair.

*           The Everett Report

*           The Whipple Report

*           The Rise of the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team as an international force.

*           Commemorations of important events in Iroquois History in Geneseo, Livingston County, or your hometown.

*           None of these appealing? Let’s talk.

Indigenous Law and Public Policy, Spring 2024

The new semester begins next week. I spent a chunk of time this winter break updating the syllabus, making changes to the reading list, and what I hope will be successful adaptations to the new challenges teaching in the Post-Covid era presents. I am posting this in hopes that someone out there will find it of value or interest.

History 262    Indigenous Law and Public Policy               Spring 2024

Professor: Michael Oberg

Meetings:   MW, 8:30-10:10, Welles 225

Office Hours:  MW, 12:30-1:30 Doty 208.




Required Readings:

Taiaiake Alfred, It’s All About the Land: Collected Talks and Interviews on Indigenous Resurgence, (2023).

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 sources like

Court cases and documents as per syllabus.

Recommended Podcasts:

            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

Recommended Movies and Television Shows

            “Reservation Dogs,” 3 Seasons, HULU

            “Little Bird,” 6 episodes, Amazon Prime

            “Wind River,” Movie

            “Killers of the Flower Moon.” (Movie)

            “Frybread Face and Me” (Movie)

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.

A Note on Grading:  Your work this semester will consist of Participation, Journals, Quizzes, 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. Write each entry in the spirit of an essay, with a thesis and evidence to support your reasoning. For inspiration, you might 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. 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.

3). Quizzes: To assess the extent to which you all are keeping up with the readings, I will administer a brief quiz most class periods consisting of five questions.

4). 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 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. Much of the reading for this course will be online or available on Brightspace. You will need to bring your laptop to class, but I expect you to use it for class-related work only.  Students who violate these policies will be asked to leave the class.

Discussion and Reading Schedule

22 January       Introduction to the Course: The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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

24 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); Rights of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada;  Banner, How, Chapters 1-3

29 January       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.

31 January       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.

 5 February      The Reservation System

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

7 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)

12 February     The Indian New Deal

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

14 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

19 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).

21 February     The Era of Self-Determination

Reading: McClanahan v. Arizona Tax Commission, (1973); Morton v. Mancari (1974); Alfred, “Constitutional Recognition and Colonial Doublespeak;” “The Psychic Landscape of Contemporary Colonialism.”

 26 February    Red Power

Reading: Cobb, Nations, 124-188; Alfred, “On Being and Becoming Indigenous.”

 28 February    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.

4 March           The Power of Tribal Governments

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

6 March           The War on Native American Children and Families

Reading:  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); Brackeen v. Haaland (2023).

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

Journal 4 Due

18 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.

20 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, if you are able to find the time.

25 March         Sexual Violence in Indian Country

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

27 March         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.

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

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

                        Journal 5 Due

3 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 additional 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!

8 April             No Class—View the Eclipse.

Reading: “Come to Geneseo, Give Us Money, Look at the Sky.”

10 April           Mascots and Other Forms of Appropriation

Audra Simpson, “Indigenous Identity Theft Must Stop,” Boston Globe, November 17, 2022; Darryl Leroux, “State Recognition and the Dangers of Race Shifting,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 46 (no. 2, 2023) (Brightspace).

15 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

17 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).

22 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.

24 April           GREAT DAY—NO CLASSES

29 April           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

1 May              What Is To Be Done?

Reading: Alfred, “Reconciliation as Recolonization;” “From Red Power to Resurgence;” “You Can’t Decolonize Colonization”

Final Paper Due

6 May            What is to be Done? (Continued)

 Reading: Harold Napoleon, Yuuyarq: The Way of the Human Being, (Fairbanks, AK:  Alaska Native Knowledge Network, 1996); Alfred, “Rooted Responsibility.”

                      Journal 7 Due

8 May              Final Class Meeting

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

Learning Outcomes.  This course fulfills the requirements for Diversity, Pluralism, and Power​: Students understand (i) the diversity of identities that characterizes the United States; (ii) the ways in which systems of power lead to different outcomes for members of diverse groups; (iii) the reasoning and impact of one’s personal beliefs and actions; and (iv) how to participate effectively in pluralistic contexts (e.g., by communicating and collaborating across difference). It also fulfills the requirements for World Cultures and Values​: Thus Students will strive to (i) understand systems of value and meaning as embodied in one or more cultures from different regions of the world; and (ii) assess interconnections among/across local and global systems and cultures. Courses in this category engage extensively with the past and/or present in cultures outside Europe and the United States (though they may also engage with content from cultures located within those regions, e.g., Native/Indigenous cultures).

Dear Members of the Hiring Committee…

Please, have some class.  Please keep in mind that there are scores of people who probably could do your job just as well as you do in the eyes of your students, but who will never get the chance because of the cruelties of the academic job market.  I have some former students and friends applying now, and the callousness with which they are treated is truly appalling.

When I began applying for jobs a long time ago, the system was very different from today. Credentials stuck in files at the AHA, or mailing in letters and a CV with letters of recommendation to follow. All carried out through the U.S. Mail. Administrators and their so-called efficiencies have changed the way we conduct searches.

My campus, like many, uses an online employment system. Applicants upload the documents we ask for (a letter, a CV, and a statement of teaching philosophy). The system generates automatic emails acknowledging receipt of the applicant’s materials. If we let it, the system will also generate automatic emails informing applicants that they did not get the job. This is the default setting, and too many of you choose to operate that way.  Think for a second how you would like to be treated.

It seemed so harsh and disrespectful to me, and so inhumane, that I chose to buck the system the last time I had an opportunity to conduct a search. These spineless robo-mails, or no message at all, have become the norm, after all. Applicants can be forgiven for feeling chewed up and spitted out, scorned and abused. It takes a lot of work to apply for an academic job. The opportunities are few and the stakes are high. An automatic email seems an unnecessarily callous ending in a world filled with callousness.

We must do better.

So as our last search reached its conclusion, I sent sixty-one emails personally, one to each of the applicants. It took a bit of time, but not much. I wanted the applicants to know that I appreciated the time and effort they put into their applications. I acknowledged the rottenness of the job market, and how I wished we could have interviewed more people. I told them how impressed my colleagues and I were with their credentials, and how difficult a time we had narrowing the applicants to a number of candidates we could meaningfully interview.

I expected nothing in response, but thirty-one of the applicants replied to my email. This surprised me. Though one was gently and reasonably critical of the time the search took, all were appreciative and thanked me for treating them with courtesy and respect. All of them either said, or strongly implied, that such minimal courtesy is all but unheard of in today’s academia.

I spend a fair amount of time on social media, so I read a lot from recent Ph.D recipients describing their searches for a tenure-track job. I hear from former students and friends. These are tales of desperation, despair and depression, and frustration and anger, with not a few instances of shabby treatment by hiring institutions along the way. We who are lucky enough to be tenured or on the tenure track must, and can, do better. Writing a personal message is only the start.

Decency matters.

Decency matters so much that it is worth the extra effort to treat job applicants as you would like to be treated. Yes, the market was brutal when I went out thirty years ago, but it is much worse now. Believe recent graduates when they tell you that.

We must recognize that we are so fortunate to have the jobs we have. Colleges and universities, I know, as workplaces can vary widely in quality. I spent the first four years of my career at a dysfunctional hellhole in Billings, Montana. But even in the midst of the shit-show that was that college, I enjoyed my students, the teaching, and the advising. I enjoyed the moments I squirreled away to work on my first book. Once I closed the classroom door or my office door, I was happy.

And even if you feel justified in whining about your place of employment, remember this: there are literally hundreds of people who would like to do what you are doing, but will never get that chance. This brutal reality imposes upon all of us the obligation to be the best historians and teachers we can be. You must remember, no matter how good you think you are at this work, no matter how paradigm-shattering you consider your research, it is almost certain that there is someone better than you, shut out by the brutality of the academic job market. One of my colleagues at the dysfunctional hellhole, who doubled as an associate pastor at a local Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, told me during my on-campus interview that being a college professor was the best part-time job in the world. I suspect that we all know people who take this approach to academia, who do not produce or take their teaching seriously, but I can think of no attitude more loathsome and disrespectful to the many hundreds of talented historians who will never get a chance.

We cannot undo all the macroeconomic changes in higher education. I recognize the magnitude of the fiscal challenges facing colleges and universities. But let’s push back against the increasing bureaucratization of the job search and the increasing role played by computers in the hiring process. Perhaps you have an Ivy-League pedigree, and you feel your research is so important that you cannot be bothered to pay attention to the lowly peons who want to join your department. Perhaps you went to a second-tier school and never looked back. Whoever you are, wherever and whatever you studied, there is no excuse for not being kind. Resist every institutional protocol, and every barrier, that keeps you from treating job applicants the way you would like to be treated. If you are that barrier, and find that you cannot find the time to treat applicants with decency, perhaps you ought to step aside. Be kind and be decent. Most of all, show compassion. It matters.

Trauma-Informed Teaching in Native American History

In conversations with colleagues across the country at the American Society for Ethnohistory meeting in Tallahassee, one thing we all agreed on was that our students seem to be reading less, and reading less closely. Participation in class discussions had declined, as had attendance.  I was disappointed in myself in that I had not succeeded in breaking through, in getting students to engage with the material and do the reading, but I was reassured, I guess, that I as not alone. Still, I had to try something new. 

It went really, really well.

We were discussing some particularly brutal stories from the Plains Wars during the Civil War Years, beginning with the Dakota Uprising in Minnesota and closing with the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. They could read about both events in Native America, but I wanted them to go deeper into the material.  I recently read a fantastic article by historian and artist Taylor Spence called “Rethinking the Colonial Encounter in the Age of Trauma.” He is a great historian. His essay appeared in a really useful volume entitled The Routledge Companion to Global Indigenous History. Both the article and the book are well-worth your time. Spence suggested to me a new way to teach this subject, a trauma-informed approach that could lead students to feel deeply the impact of the events they were reading about.  Following Spence’s lead, I assigned them Waziyatawin’s “Grandmother to Granddaughter: Generations of Oral History in a Dakota Family,” which appeared in the American Indian Quarterly back in 1996. Waziyatawin (Angela Cavender Wilson) wrote a searing piece of family history. I suggest you try it in your courses.

Waziyatawin’s grandmother, Elsie Cavender, had received a story from her grandmother that she shared late in life.  She told Waziyatawin of the family’s forced march after the Dakota Uprising, and how soldiers, in an act of irrational and senseless violence, murdered Elsie’s great-great-grandmother. It’s a brief essay, and Elsie Cavender’s account is roughly a page and a half.  I asked my students to tell me what happened. They gave me a competent summary of the story.  The Dakotas were marching towards imprisonment at Fort Snelling.  They confronted white people in towns “where the people were real hostile to them.” They white people threw rocks, and poured scalding water on them.  They camped at night, living on rotten provisions provided by the army.  They marched onward. They moved too slowly.  The soldiers grew angry, and stabbed Elsie’s Grandmother’s grandmother with a saber. She bled to death on a bridge. When her family returned later, the body was gone, but they saw dried blood on the wooden planks.

I told the students I wanted more. Go deeper. Summarizing what you read, after all, is no great achievement. Spence suggested that the students attempt to imagine deeply what it would have been like to be present when those soldiers murdered an elderly woman for no reason at all. So I told them to think of their senses. If they were on the bridge where the killing took place that day, what would they have seen, heard, smelled, tasted or felt?

My students jumped into the assignment. You would smell the rotten provisions the soldiers distributed, one student observed. The relentlessly irritating sound of the squeaky wagon wheel, another pointed out. They would have heard that. The dust, the sight and smell and sound of the cattle would have been difficult to miss.  They were rolling now, but they were staying away from the violence.  It took them a bit, but they got there. The soldiers’ profanities, their angry, barking orders in a language the Lakotas did not understand; the screams in response to unbelievable and senseless violence; the blood pouring from a mortal wound.


We had spoken early that day about the reliability of oral testimony as evidence. One student predictably and appropriately suggested that it might be like the old game of Telephone, as a story changes as it is passed from one hearer to another. But think of each of the sensory events you just identified, I told the students.  I asked them to think of their earliest memories. What made those memories particularly powerful? Each of them, individually, affected the senses in a memorable fashion.  Each was easily capable of etching itself into the minds of successive generations of storytellers. The events that Waziyatawin recalled for us, I suggested, were of the sort that would not be easily forgotten.

We are not supposed to teach history in a way that makes our students feel bad about who or what they are. We should not make them feel guilty or uncomfortable about the past. That is what lawmakers in a growing number of red states have demanded. They have proscribed the teaching of certain topics. They have singled out the 1619 Project, and the histories of slavery, and racism, as topics that should not be taught in ways that make white people feel uncomfortable. These right-wing politicians have said much less about Native American history, but clearly they would be bothered by things I teach in my classes: the Paxton Boys, for instance, or the massacre at Gnadenhutten. These politicians are calling for an education fit for sociopaths. They want students to feel nothing but love of country.

My students felt badly about the history they read that day.  Again, some of them had tears in their eyes. When they read Silas Soule’s account of Sand Creek, in which he describes the mutilation of dead Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children, well, they felt this as well.

            But here’s the thing. They felt badly, to be sure, but they did not feel ashamed of their race. They did not feel guilty or responsible for the crimes of the past. This is what the Republican dingbats miss.  My students felt connected to people very different from them who lived a century and a half ago. They understood the meaning a past event at a much deeper level than they may have done previously, and the emotions were heavy indeed.  They grieved. They had, I would argue, learned a lot.  I sent a message to Dr. Spence to tell him how well his class exercise went, how much my students learned, and how thankful I was for his good work.

Let’s say you are walking down a crowded city street.  Your foot catches a person walking in front of you, and they trip and almost fall. Without thinking, if you are a decent person, you apologize. You are not debasing yourself when you do this. You worried that you might have hurt somebody, that they could have fallen and been injured. It’s not about you. You apologize because you are not a dick, because you care about other people, because you worry that your actions could have caused for someone pain or sorrow. You say you are sorry because you felt sorrow.

I have thought about this a lot when I teach. Why do we say sorry? I want my students to appreciate the past on its own terms, to feel a connection to the people they read about.  The students in my class obviously could not undo the past.  They could not apologize or express their sorrow to the Dakota woman murdered on that bridge. But they did understand something at a deeper level than they might otherwise have done, and that made them wiser and more capable of understanding other people.  They felt empathy. And they cared about this particular piece of the past more deeply that they would have done if I had merely told them about the Dakota Uprising and Sand Creek. They may not remember much of my class a couple of years from now but I am confident that they will remember this.

SUNY: Where BIPOC Too Often Means BPOC

Discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion on too many college campuses are shallow and ineffective when it comes to Indigenous people. For instance, Ricardo Nazario-Colón, SUNY’s Vice-Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, recently sent out a memo to SUNY campuses across the state, with his thoughts on the importance of Native American Heritage Month.

            “We should take this moment,” he writes, “to recognize the profound contributions, rich cultures, and interminable spirit of the First Peoples of this land.” Nazario-Colón wants to remind his SUNY colleagues “of the deep-rooted connections we all share with the Earth and each other.”

            Some of your students will read this and ask, “who could possibly object to that?” Your Indigenous students are likely to ask, “Who’s We?”

            Dr. Nazario-Colón, like me, is an employee of a state that systematically stole Indigenous lands; dragged Indigenous children off to a boarding school that did not close until the late 1950s; sought to eradicate Indigenous languages, culture and religion; and attempted to destroy and dismantle the League of the Iroquois. New York could not have become the Empire State without a systematic program of Indigenous dispossession that at times explicitly violated the laws of the United States. SUNY, as an institution, resisted late until the last century the efforts of Haudenosaunee people to secure sacred objects squirreled away in its collections. Nazario-Colón implicitly accepts the monstrous logic of Justice Ginsburg’s Sherrill decision. Yes, we took your land, but it happened too long ago for us to worry about now.

            Dr. Nazario-Colón hopes that “in our journey to deepen our own understanding and acceptance across differences” that we will strive to identify “the core values, emotions, and aspirations we all share.” Doing so, he believes, “fosters unity, solidarity, and a sense of common purpose.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it is far too limited, and Dr. Nazario-Colón has in effect written a perfectly tepid settler-colonial manifesto that fills every square on your DEI Bingo Card. We stole your land. We attempted to destroy your culture. We denigrated your religion. Our Founding Fathers invaded your homelands, burned your towns, raped your women, and murdered your children. We openly and enthusiastically forecasted your extinction and looked forward to your disappearance as a people. If New York had its way, its Indigenous population would no longer exist. But, Hey, let’s get along! Maybe we can even have some “Reconciliation”! But we will not talk about our lies, our crimes, and agreements we have broken. We will not talk about the corruption, deceit, bribery, and dishonesty employed by the State officials who extracted cessions of Indigenous land.

The Worst Territorial Acknowledgment in the history of the world recently was visible at SUNY Geneseo. It is covered now.

Let’s all get along. Let’s make sure we “see” each other. We may celebrate the “indomitable spirit” we tried to crush, but we will not do any of the heavy lifting, really, to make things right. “We want to learn about you,” Dr. Nazario-Colón suggests. “We want to treat you well.”

“We want our lands back,” Indigenous people might reply. We want SUNY to be a welcoming space for Indigenous peoples, with free tuition, room, and board, and a commitment to hiring Indigenous faculty. We want you to put up or shut up.  There have been some exceptions—at SUNY-ESF for example, or with the University at Buffalo’s exciting Indigenous Studies program. But SUNY, as in institution, has shown little interest in any of this. It never really has, and most campuses, like mine, have administrators in charge of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging who do nothing meaningful about this issue.

The problem, of course, is bigger than Dr. Nazario-Colón. His message nevertheless reflects the emptiness and ineffectiveness of so much DEI rhetoric on college campuses, where too few people in too many positions of power at too many schools know way too little about Indigenous peoples, their histories, and their cultures. As a non-Indigenous scholar writing and teaching the history of Indigenous peoples, I find the result galling and offensive, especially on a campus like mine, where we are so closely connected historically to New York’s drive to dispossess and drive Senecas, Oneidas, and Tuscaroras out of the Genesee Valley. You might say that SUNY favors that sort of equity and diversity that costs it nothing, that they are bargain-basement crusaders too cheap to make a real difference. But it’s not about money. It would have cost Dr. Nazario-Colón nothing, after all, to do the work to write a message worth the time it takes to read. The real problem is that they have always been satisfied with gestures empty and performative. The real problem is that they have never adequately shown that they care.

“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.