In Review: ‘American Indians in US History’

larry p madden | yl voice | april 2017

Clocking in at a mere 216 pages, this edition of “American Indians in U.S. History" paints Native history with wide brush strokes. The topic is a colossal one to undertake, but it's somewhat disappointing that the book tends to slide over important moments in history quickly. The finished product certainly has some meat on the bone, enticing readers to further research these historical moments with reference notes and sources at the end of every chapter. I found myself wanting more from each chapter, but to cover five hundred years of culture and history in such a short text is a near impossible task.

Nichols' second edition has been expanded so it now covers pre-contact time until the 20th century and beyond. One of the topics covered well was The Dawes Act, which was a dark moment in the late 19th Indian narrative. This “Land Allotment Act," as it is sometimes known, is explained in a way that revealed some details I wasn't previously aware of — namely, that the bill's sponsor, Legislator Dawes, would later express regret of the bill's effects upon the Indian populace. This honest revelation of the facts, with a reference point handy, allowed me to explore more details, giving that bigger picture. In that case, I will concede that Nichols' format worked flawlessly.

The later chapters covered names and places that should be familiar to most people in Indian Country, but to those unaware of the more recent struggles in our story, the book provides the required reference points. With the advent of the Indian Activist era, names such as Dennis Banks, Clyde Bellecourt and Russell Means are all present and accounted for but the book also includes some very interesting Menominee history. Termination, DRUMS and Ms. Ada Deer are all explained to document their importance to both the Menominee Nation and all Indian people through the United States. This tribe affected the highest seats in United States government and Nichols does a nice job of giving them their due.

This text is a great introduction for uninformed readers that don't realize how Indian people from the Midwest changed the shape of government, both federal and tribal. The famed American Indian Movement hailed from the Twin Cities and the fishing protests over treaty rights are documented to show readers that pride in Indian Country has been strong for a long time and that passionate, activist young people can cause changes right here at home.

After all is said and done, the book was interesting for this self-proclaimed history geek, but I doubt it would be a hit with an average reader. As supplemental text I found it useful, but it's dry for a reader or tabletop gift. Still, this textbook can open the eyes of a general reader, especially the students amongst us who are compelled to seek a broader view of the American story. Nichols gives us an honest look at what really happened to Indian people, something many history books lack.


Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.

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