For July's Book a Month Challenge, the theme was independence. My other book club had chosen to read Ned Blackhawk's Violence Over the Land, and I felt that it fit in well with this theme.
This book focuses on the impact colonialism had on the Great Basin tribes, particularly the Ute, Paiute, and Shoshone. I found the early history particularly enlightening, starting with the Spanish influences in the mid-1500s. I'd never really considered great of an impact that early colonists had had on the native tribes, and for how long these people had been struggling to co-exist before the United States even came into existence.
I was also particularly interested in the chapter on the Mormon settlement of Utah and how they related to the native tribes as well. As a native Utahn (at least 5th generation), it was quite interesting to see how my own ancestors probably perceived the native tribes, and how they interacted with one another.
This book is a difficult read - it is quite academic, and doesn't provide much early context for the non-historian, or for those approaching the book without a strong background in early American history. One of my friend mentioned that they would have liked more information about tribal society before the colonialists came and changed it all with the introduction of horses, guns, and other European conveniences. I can see his point, since Blackhawk emphasizes throughout the book that these had a tremendous impact on the native tribes and their intertribal relations, but never does describe how intertribal interactions were before these changes took place. It's difficult to grasp the full picture.
I think that Blackhawk does a tremendous job of providing a balanced perception of the book. He portrays both native American tribes and European settlers as struggling to understand one another and share the land, but their relations are riddled with so many misunderstandings and incompatable societal expectations that it really was doomed to failure.
It's a terribly sad history, and I'm surprised that, being raised in both Utah and Arizona, it hasn't been mentioned much in any of the classes I had growing up. Even though a large percentage of my high school population was Navajo or Hopi, our history classes never reflected that, or emphasized their role in the history of our nation. Reflecting on this, it doesn't surprise me that so many native Americans feel disenfranchised or have high dropout rates. I would too, if my entire society were ignored and overlooked in the story of our nation.
The book ends with the statement that the conflict over land is ongoing - Shoshone tribes in Nevada have still never received the reservation lands that were promised to them over a century ago. It's eye-opening to me that our nation still hasn't learned from 2 centuries of mistakes in dealing with native Americans, though sadly, it's not that surprising. I can only continue to hope for the future, and perhaps I'm a little more aware of the issues.