Reviewed by Scott L. Stabler (Department of History, Arizona State University)
Published on H-AmIndian (June, 2002)
Some Answers, with many Questions
Some Answers, with many Questions
Jack Utter has compiled an engaging collection of information. His book is not a narrative history, but primarily a series of questions and answers with some stories in the mix. Utter admits he has not made a direct contribution to the field of American Indian history; his audience is the non-academician who wants to know answers to basic questions about America's Native Peoples. "This book is not and was not intended to be, one that will be analyzed by ethereal academicians for decades into the 21st century" (p. xxix). Utter accomplishes his goal.
Though not Native himself, Utter is vested in the Navajo Nation. With a doctorate in forestry, he works for the Navajo Nation's Water Code Administration. Throughout his questions and answers, Utter weaves in personal stories that show his favoritism and makes the book's style somewhat inconsistent. However, this all re-emphasizes that the intended audience is not the academic.
The author provides a general understanding of issues such as "discovery," government annexation of lands, and tribal organization. It is doubtful that any scholar of American Indians will agree with many of Utter's points, but it is also doubtful they will not learn something by reading his work. American Indians: Answers to Today's Questions fulfills its mission to "counteract ignorance" (p. xix) even though it has many debatable points, overlaps in parts, and lacks a current understanding of several ongoing issues in American Indian history.
Reviewing a work that in its simplest form consists of a list of questions and answers has its own challenges that vary from reviewing narrative works. This could be the reason why the first edition (1993) received no reviews from major journals.
The author breaks up his monograph into three parts entitled, "The Discovery Issue," "Questions and Answers," and "A Summary of United States Indian Policy." Utter's writings on "discovery" revolve largely around the idea of a racist ideal for conquest, yet he ignores economic determinism that so often drives racist actions. The second part involves fifteen sections entitled "Questions and Answers" that try to answer questions about the Indian people; Indian tribes; treaties and agreements; myth, misinformation, and stereotype; culture and religion; warfare, land, resources, and non-gaming economics; legal status and tribal self-government; the Bureau of Indian Affairs; health; education; other agencies and national Indian organizations; Alaska; gaming; and the future. He answers basic questions of "Who is an Indian?" and "How is tribal membership determined?" in a variety of manners that reflect the issues' complexity. Ironically, the author uses inaccurate language to describe Euro-Americans. In his question, "What is the 'politically correct' term to use in referring to American Indians?" Utter uses the term Anglo American to describe whites. He later uses Caucasian American; both terms are historically incorrect when generalizing white Americans.
Possibly surprising to the academic reader, Utter uses parenthetical notes without page numbers. He draws on government documents and commonly known sources for "people who want substantive, well-referenced, and easily located information on a wide array of Indian topics" (p. xix). The works Utter cites throughout are from many popular and largely contemporary works in American Indian history. He also uses easy-to-access Bureau of Indian Affairs documents, often putting the entire document in the text, and even gives web addresses to many of his references. The author's appendices form excellent reference material as he includes many entire documents and important contact information (from the BIA to the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee). The extensive thirty-nine-page bibliography does not separate government documents, articles, and books.
Utter gives statistics that show Native perseverance and growth in influence. He notes, "American Indians have the highest rate of military service of any group in the United States" (p. 107). He adeptly handles the controversy of the naming of sports teams. The author reveals the perpetuation of both the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Services (IHS), but virtually ignores the corruption in the BIA and some very questionable practices carried out by the IHS, including sterilization.
The work is useful, but has several flaws. Utter fails to address the whole idea of decolonization, a movement among mostly Native scholars that gets away from using colonizing verbiage and descriptors of Native Peoples, such as Indian or American. He also uses the common naming of nations, i.e. Sioux is used instead of Dakota or Lakota and Navajo instead of Din. Decolonization also goes much deeper into the standard of contextualizing Native history in Native terms, instead of the typical historical methodology of chronology, archival research, and white/Native interactions.
In several places, Utter gives overly simplistic answers to complicated questions--for example, "Does the U.S. still make treaties with Indian tribes?" He concludes the end of treaty making as a selfish detrimental move by the government. The issue has two sides. In fact, the move to end treaties was seen as a way to make initial Native/government negotiations more valid because funding and treaty stipulations were tied together, making it easier for the government to keep the promises made at the time of negotiation.
Utter blames the Civil War mentality of soldiers as a driving force in postbellum warfare against American Indians, avoiding the white migration explosion during virtually the same period. The source he cites for this perspective also notes that white westward migration reached nine million between 1860 and 1899, the largest migration in American history. In trying to break through common misperceptions, Utter perpetuates the one that the military was the major player in the oppression of Natives after the Civil War instead of placing at least some blame on white migration, railroads, and greed.
Utter says "a little about a lot of topics" (p. xxx) in a relatively balanced manner. For the non-academic it will give them a good overall understanding of Native issues and history. Even for the academic it has enlightening sections and serves as a good reference, especially involving, notable quotes, figures, maps, government documents and census statistics. Utter's questions and answers have historical value in that they will help erase ignorance about Native Peoples.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-amindian.
Scott L. Stabler. Review of Utter, Jack, American Indians: Answers to Today's Questions.
H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews.
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