Recovering Homelands, Governance, and Lifeways: Book Review of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations by Charles Wilkinson
11 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2006
When scholars write about Indians and property, they often focus on property losses. This scholarship is, of course, inspired by the staggering dispossession of Indian lands. Between 1492 and 1960, tribes lost most of North America to white settlers and their governments. Charles Wilkinson's new book, Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations, notes, however, that since the 1960s, American Indian tribes have acquired about 7.5 million acres of land - an area measuring "one and a half times the size of Massachusetts." This figure represents an increase of fifteen percent over 1960s figures, and takes the total Indian land base in the lower forty-eight states to fifty-eight million acres. These figures represent a dramatic turn of events, given both the overwhelming history of Indian land loss and importance of a growing land base to contemporary tribal governance, socio-economics, and culture.
While the story of how tribes are reclaiming their property is a dramatic one, it is just one of many tribal sovereignty success stories recounted in Wilkinson's latest book. Indeed, the most immediately striking thing about Blood Struggle is that, in an era when many Indian law scholars lament tribes' overwhelming losses before the United States Supreme Court, Wilkinson is positive about, even uplifted by, the state of Indian law and policy. Blood Struggle's optimism seems to come from its focus on the human stories underlying the law and policy. While Wilkinson acknowledges the institutional power of the federal government, he credits Indian people and their modern sovereignty movement as a collective force in their own right. On their own initiative, tribes have significantly restored their land bases, cultures, economies, and governing institutions. Challenges remain, such as the Supreme Court's ongoing reluctance to recognize the foundational principles or realities of Indian law, but Blood Struggle suggests that the tribal sovereignty movement will ultimately prevail.
Keywords: Charles Wilkinson, tribal sovereignty, property
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