Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nonfiction: Facing East from Indian Country by Daniel K. Richter

Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press
Date: 2001
Format: paperback
Source: purchased
Read: in connection with a Native American Ethnohistory class
Pages: 253
Reading time: one week

From the back of the book: In the beginning, North America was Indian country. But only in the beginning. After the opening act of the great national drama, Native Americans yielded to the westward rush of European settlers. Or so the story usually goes. Yet, for three centuries after Columbus's arrival, Native people controlled most of eastern North American and profoundly shaped its destiny. In Facing East from Indian Country, Daniel K. Richter keeps Native people center stage throughout the story of the origins of the United States.

My review: Facing East from Indian Country is probably one the best history books I've read in terms of its accessibility combined with the quality of information it contains. I was impressed with what Richter set out to do with the book and how he accomplished it. As someone who already has an interest in early/colonial America, this was a fantastic introduction to the Native American ethnohistory of the period. While Richter discusses specific examples rather than write a complete survey of eastern Native history from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the examples allow him to draw generalized conclusions that connect together to provide a broader picture.

And that broader picture is...just wow. The major points seem to be that Natives originally welcomed Europeans into their world, willingly integrating them into their diplomatic and economic systems. Problem was, Europeans wanted to do things their own way, and despite Natives' attempts to come to terms with European ways, Europeans increasingly wanted to distance the societies. Another point is the role of the French and Indian, or Seven Years', War in defining the attitudes and policies that formed the events of the late eighteenth century and later as the colonies became their own country. It's amazing - and awful - how everything, both smaller details and global movements, combined together to eventually lead to bloody conflicts and the removal of Native Americans from the eastern U.S.

Is this book perfect? No. It's only one author's interpretation of history, for one thing, and I'm sure parts of his thesis are arguable depending on how one looks at historical sources (or which ones are studied). Occasionally, the examples Richter used seemed long and drawn-out, especially with how complex political and military situations could be. As usual, the examples are also heavy on English interactions in the Northeast, though I was happy that there was some discussion about Spanish exploration as well as much more about the Cherokee, Creek, and other major Southeastern tribes. Overall, I found the book easy to read and highly informative, a fantastic introduction to the relationships between eastern Native Americans and European settlers in colonial America.

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