History 469
American Indians and American Colonialism, 1776-2001

University of Oregon
Fall 2001 Course Syllabus
Matthew Dennis


CRN 14969
154 STB; 14:00-15:20, M, W
Office: 357 Grayson Hall: Hours: 11-12, M, W, F

Both editions of Major Problems are now on reserve.
Given the difficulty of getting the 2nd edition of the book, Major Problems in American Indian History, I will allow you to use the first edition, and I will place a copy of the 1st edition on reserve. When I can obtain a copy of 2nd ed., I'll put that on reserve too. Below are alternative reading assignments for the first four weeks of the course, if you are using the 1st edition.

Reading assignments for Major Problems, 1st edition. Note: other reading assignments unchanged (in other books and as links from the on-line syllabus).
Week 1: pp. 33-42; 65-80; 87-89, 92-95, and 96-104; optional but recommended: 117-36.
Week 2: pp. 156-62.
Week 3: pp. 164-85.
Week 4: pp. 185-204, 206-33.


This course on the history of American Indians and their on-going experience with United States colonialism will confront the vast chronological expanse from 1776 to the present in thematic fashion. It will probe the history of both the impact of colonialism on Native peoples of North America and the experiences of those diverse peoples on their own terms. The course will thus ask how and why the American state and its citizens victimized Native people and how those Native people were much more than mere victims--how Indians resourcefully adjusted, resisted, and accommodated the changing realities of life in America during the course of United States history. Five (roughly chronological) units will organize the course.

Format and Requirements

This course will combine lecture with discussion, often weaving the two together to make class sessions interactive. Lectures will generally build upon, not simply recapitulate, readings. Students are responsible for completing reading and written assignments by the time indicated on the syllabus. These assignments will often provide the basis for class activity; students are expected to attend all class meetings and participate actively. Except in extraordinary circumstances, no work will be accepted late. Students must complete all assignments in order to pass the course. Grades will be assigned according to students' performance on the following:

  • quality of class participation (25%).
  • 10 short (approx. 400-500 words) essays (about one per week) (75%).
  • There will be no exams.

Academic integrity is important. I will hold all students to the UO "Standards of Conduct." Plagiarism will not be tolerated; all work must be your own, written for this class.

Readings include four assigned books:

  • Albert L. Hurtado and Peter Iverson, eds., Major Problems in the American Indian History, 2d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
  • Richard White, The Roots of Dependency: Subsistence, Environment, and Social Change among the Choctaws, Pawnees, and Navajos (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983).
  • Linda Hogan, Solar Storms (New York: Scribner Paperback, 1997 [1995]). Note: this novel is quite long; it's a good book, but it might take a while to read-I recommend that you begin reading early in the term, perhaps making it (at least until week 9 or so) your pleasure reading book-of-choice.
  • Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (New York: Harper Perennial, rev. ed., 1993 [1984]).

These books are available at Mother Kali's Books, 720 East 13th Avenue (343-4864), two blocks from campus. Additional primary source readings will be available on the web.

Unit One: Colonialism

In a sense the American colonial period ended on July 4, 1776. But colonialism--and the imperialism of the new, independent United States--would continue, particularly from the perspective of the continent's Native people. This unit examines colonialism as a concept and probes its meaning and varied forms in the American context, focusing especially on the period culminating in the American Revolution.

Week 1

September 24 (M)--Introduction; defining colonialism; the ethics of American Indian history.

September 26 (W)--Colonialism before 1776; religious colonialism.
Reading: Major Problems, 1-17, 77-91, 98-104, 115-32, 135-38.

Essay Assignment: What was "colonial" about colonial America? Drawing on the assigned primary accounts from New Spain and New England (pp. 98-104 and 135-38 in Major Problems), write a short essay (no more than 500 words-about two typed, double-spaced pages) that assesses the nature of European colonization and its impact on these Native people. How were they colonized? How did they react? Due in class Wednesday, September 26.
[remember: this is an essay, not a research paper. Analyze your sources and make (and support) a particular point in response to the question; do not expect to be comprehensive-you have only two pages.]

Week 2

October 1 (M)--Gendered Colonialism, Economic Colonialism. Reading: Major Problems, 149-60; White, Roots of Dependency, "Introduction," xiii-xix, 1-33.

October 3 (W)--Choctaw accommodation and adjustment. Reading: White, Roots of Dependency, 34-96. Questions to Consider

Essay Assignment: With European colonization of America came environmental transformation, even degradation. Considering the case of the Choctaws--as detailed by Richard White--write a short essay (no more than 500 words) that assesses the environmental impact of European colonization on the Choctaws and analyzes their responses. Why does White write, "Too often [environmental crises] are dismissed as merely environmental or biological failures . . . . Such explanations ignore the larger web of political, social, cultural, and economic relations which have shaped human actions on the land"? Due in class Wednesday, October 3.


Unit Two: Independence and Dependence

In the chartering text of the Declaration of Independence, indictments against George III had included the charge, "He . . . has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions." Evaluated historically, such a claim lacks credibility, not only because the king had done no such thing, but also because of the inaccuracy of its generalization about Native warfare and its failure to place frontier conflict in the context of white expansion. The American Revolution was most revolutionary, and most violent, when it faced west, where white militia and Continental soldiers confronted Native people, the largest body of "loyalists" in America. Many Native people in the West maintained loyalty to the crown that protected them better than provincial governments against western white settlers. Yet patriot and loyalist Natives alike saw their positions deteriorate after the Treaty of Paris (1783). In a revolutionary act as radical as any in the French or Russian Revolutions, Indian land was expropriated and redistributed to white Americans pushing into the republic's "Empire of Liberty."

Week 3

October 8 (M)--Revolutionary War. Reading: Major Problems, 163-98.

October 10 (W)--Peace and Its Aftermath. Reading: Washington to James Duane, Sept. 7, 1783; Northwest Ordinance (1787); U.S. Constitution; Henry Knox report 1789; Washington to Chiefs of the Seneca Nation, Dec. 29, 1790; Trade and Intercourse Act (1790).

Essay Assignment: Write a short essay (500 words maximum) that analyzes the evolving U.S. Indian policy through the Jefferson administration (through 1808). What was Secretary of War Henry Knox's prescription for "peace with honor"? What were the implications for American Indians? You might also speculate about the ways that this emergent approach set the tone for later Indian policy. Due in class Monday, October 15.

Week 4

October 15 (M)--"Empire of Liberty"? Reading: Major Problems, 199-205, 207-17; Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, Feb. 27, 1802; Jefferson, addresses to Indians (1802-1806).

October 17--Indians in the New Republic, Domestic Dependent Nations? The Case of the Choctaws. Reading: White, 97-146; Indian Removal Act (1830).

Essay Assignment: Richard White writes in The Roots of Dependency, "If any single factor is to be isolated as critical for understanding the fate of the Choctaws, it is the market." Explain and assess White's argument in a short essay (500 words maximum). How integral was the market to colonialism? Due in class October 17.

Unit Three: Westward Expansion-How the West was Won and Lost

If United States western expansion and the westward trek of pioneers are celebrated in American history and myth, how does such an historical process strike American Indians? More importantly, how did it affect Native people living in the West in the 19th century? This unit will analyze How the West was Lost--the underside of the American frontier myth. This is a complicated story--there were multiple "Wests," and different Native people had different experiences. Some lost more suddenly and dramatically than others, and even the "losers" in the process persisted and refused to disappear, challenging the myth of the Vanishing Indian.

Week 5

October 22 (M)--the Plains Across. Reading: Major Problems, 228-274.

October 24 (W)--California and Oregon in the Wake of the Oregon Trail. Reading: Thomas Hart Benton on "Manifest Destiny" (1846); Donation Land Act (1850); U.S. Executive Order (1854); Treaty of Point Elliott (1855); Francis Paul Prucha, "California, Oregon, and Washington," in The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians, 2 vols. (Lincoln, Neb., 1984), I: 381-409 (on e-reserve).

Essay Assignment: In a short essay (500 words maximum), assess the conquest of the Oregon Country, comparing it to other regions in the United States. How is the story of colonialism, accommodation, resistance here similar or different? Due in class October 24.

Week 6

October 29 (M)--Conquest and Dependency among the Pawnees. Reading: White, 147-211.

October 31 (W)--Late 19th-Century Resistance and Transition. Reading: Major Problems, 312-46; Little Bear, Account of Sand Creek Massacre (1864); Bear Head, Account of the Massacre on the Marias River (1870); Luther Standing Bear, "The Plains Were Covered with Dead Bison"; Carl Sweezy, "On Taking 'the New Road'" (all available on e-reserve). Recommended: Dan Flores, "Bison Ecology and Bison Diplomacy, 1800-1850."

Essay Assignment: Write a short essay (500 words maximum) that accounts for the relatively rapid defeat of trans-Mississippi Indian nations in the second half of the 19th century. Due in class October 31.

Unit Four: "Civilization," "Americanization," and Native Nationalism

With Indians confined on reservations, attempts by reformers and government officials to transform and assimilate Native people took new forms. Particularly devastating were renewed efforts to impose private property, new work regimens, different gender systems, the English language, and Christianity on American Indians. This social engineering-cultural, social, and economic colonialism-had a devastating impact, not only on Native societies and cultures, but materially on the larger Indian land base, as millions of acres were lost to Native people in the years following the General Allotment Act (or Dawes Act) of 1887. Indians themselves forged new ways to accommodate and resist this colonialism-including new pan-Indian organizations and prophetic movements-but the situation often proved grim during these late 19th-, early 20th-century years.

Week 7

November 5 (M)--"Friends of the Indian" and the Impact of "Good Intentions." Reading: Major Problems, 348-81.

November 7 (W)--Reform, Native Accommodation, and Resistance. Reading: Major Problems, 383-417.

Essay Assignment: Some historians have described the 1890s as the nadir of American Indian history. Do you agree? Write a short essay (500 words maximum) that evaluates this historical assessment. Due in class November 7.

Week 8

November 12 (M)--the Navajo Experience. Reading: White, 212-323.

November 14 (W)--Native Perspectives, History as Literature; Literature as History. Reading: Erdrich, Love Medicine, 1-105

Essay Assignment: In a short essay(500 words maximum), assess the "Indian New Deal." What kind of deal did it offer American Indians--was it new, was it "a deal"? Would you characterize it as colonialism, or were the new policies of the 1930s anticolonial in nature? Due in class November 14.

Unit Five: "Postcolonial" Native America

World War II was a cataclysmic event for Indians as much as for non-Indians. Thousands of Indian men and women served in the military and worked in defense industries, an experience that was transformative for many, changing how some viewed themselves, their communities, and the larger world. On the one hand, when anti-Indian prejudices could be overcome, integration into American social and economic life seemed possible and often advantageous. On the other hand, such "integration" was not always welcome and could have its costs, especially when officials developed new policies to terminate their trust responsibilities toward Indians, dismantle reservation homelands, and encourage Native people to disintegrate into the American Melting Pot. This unit examines these developments in the latter half of the 20th century--a sort of postcolonial age for American Indians. How did Native people adjust to new opportunities and respond to new dangers in the era? How did they change in order to conserve their cultures, communities, and homelands? And how did they assert new forms of self-determination? Finally, what challenges do American Indians and other Native people continue to face in the 21st century?

Week 9

November 19 (M)--World II, Postwar Policies, and Indian Responses. Reading: Major Problems, 418-33 (433-50 recommended but optional); Erdrich, Love Medicine, 106-93.

November 21 (W)--Indian History as Family History: Kashpaws and Lamartines; the people of Adam's Rib, Fur Island, and Two-Town. Reading: Major Problems, 452-60 (460-85 recommended but optional); Erdrich, Love Medicine, 194-367; begin reading Hogan, Solar Storms.

Essay Assignment: Love Medicine is a work of fiction, yet it convey truths about Native American experience in the 20th century. Write an essay (500 words maximum) that analyzes these historical lessons. How do they compare and contrast with those available in conventional historical works? What is the value of such fiction in understanding historical experience? Are there limitations? Due in class November 21.

Week 10

November 26 (M)--Contemporary Challenges: Land, Resources, Religious Freedom. Reading: Hogan, Solar Storms, through 223.

November 28 (W)--Contemporary Resistance and Persistence. Reading: Hogan, Solar Storms, 224-351.

Essay Assignment: In a short essay (500 words maximum), assess the relationship in Solar Storms between cultural and ecological survival for the people of Adam's Rib and Two-Town. What does Hogan tell us about colonialism as experienced by American Indians? How universal or how specific is this message intended to be? Do Native people have something to teach non-Natives about cultural and environmental survival? Due in class November 28.

Aurora Borealis