Native American History Settler Colonialism

Why You Can’t Teach US History Without American Indians

I recently heard that a book that I co-contributed to, will be picked up for its second printing.  I felt lucky to be included and even luckier that others loved the book enough to purchase it.

American Indians book review Native American History Settler Colonialism

Book Review: Karen Hansen’s book, Encounter on the Great Plains

Read my review of Karen Hansen’s book, Encounter on the Great Plains for the Great Plains Quarterly.

American Indians Native American History Settler Colonialism

ICWA, Baby “Lexi,” and Race


Read the printed piece at

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Aditya Dynar and Timothy Sandefur regarding Baby Lexi.  Lexi, who is 1.5% Choctaw through her paternal line, was in the foster care system in California.  Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, Lexi is required to return to a tribal guardian.  Lexi’s Native family lives in Utah.  Her foster parents fought the federal government in order to keep Lexi in their care.

Rarely do opinion pieces illicit such a reaction from me.  That said, ICWA (from working as a research assistant on Margaret Jacobs’s A Generation Removed: The Fostering and Adoption of Indigenous Children in the Postwar World (University of Nebraska Press, 2015)  and Indian land tenure issues (because I grew up on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation) are my button issues.

My letter to the editor (yet to be published) is below:

When Aditya Dynbar and Timothy Sandefur argue that ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is racist, what they really mean is that ICWA prioritizes Indigenous parenting rights over non-Indigenous families. Congress passed ICWA (1978) in response to the thousands of Indigenous children removed from their families and placed into non-Indigenous homes, which effectively removed Indigenous children from their cultural contexts and continued the American practice of forced assimilation.  Dynbar and Sandefur argue that Lexi is only 1.5% Choctaw, which obfuscates how tribal kinship works and sanitizes the cultural harm that Indigenous children and families faced prior to Congress passing the legislation.  Their piece also elides the fact that Lexi’s foster family broke the child’s anonymity by creating a Facebook page in an effort to garner sympathy and support.  Foster care is always temporary.  Many states, including California where Lexi’s foster parents live, have laws where relative preference is a priority in child placement.  For Indigenous children, relative preference ensures the long-term vitality of Indigenous cultures, including language and customs.  Cultural continuity enlivens and strengthens tribal nations and their members, and ICWA safeguards that for future generations. The Indigenous preference inherent in ICWA demonstrates the value of keeping Indigenous children in Indigenous homes.  The law upholds Indigenous sovereignty and further cements a nation-to-nation relationship between American Indian Tribal Nations and the U.S. Government. To call this Act racist is the authors’ attempt at further eroding Indigenous sovereignty.

American Indians American Jewish History Native American History R+ Settler Colonialism Text Analysis

Word Clouding: Immigrant Jewish Male Settlers

Historical actors make history!  Such axioms allow my project to include the lives of many Jewish settlers that, by in large, have been excluded in the overarching narrative of the American West.  The entire dissertation views Jewish settlers as part and parcel of a much large settler colonial project set into motion by the federal government through the  Oregon Donation Land Act, the Homestead Act, and the Dawes Act.  Immigrants were promised free land!  Although it was not technically free (filing fees and $1.00 per acre), the ability to own land was largely unheard of in many of the settlers’ home countries.  This was especially true for Russian Jews who left their country for various reasons: pograms and the inability to own land.  For many Russian Jews their lives were torn asunder.

Close reading of the some of the documents reinforce, and then, add to these historical narratives.  For example, in the case of Charles Losk who’s family fled Russia right after the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, they chose to farm because when they had traveled across Europe they witnessed German farmers.  For the Losk family, those German farmers led a peaceful life that was free of government intervention.  Yet, the word clouds do not show the reasons why they chose to move to North Dakota over the more urban locales.  In the case of Sigmund Shlesinger (below), the topics in the word clouds directly reflect the actual text.

Sigmund Schlessinger
Sigmund Shlesinger



Collectively, the Jewish male data set reflect a concern for family, land, farming, and traveling to the United States.  Some of these things might not surprise historians.  We can understand the travelogues.  One might also think that topics such as farming and land would be natural fits for immigrant families coming to the Dakotas.  Which in turn make topics like the seasons not so ordinary.  What is so fascinating, especially when one looks at the topics with special attention to gender–the fact that these men are writing a great deal about the family is especially telling.  It might lend itself to understand that Jewish males viewed the home and their family as a refuge from the outside pressure to assimilate.

jewishmale5 jewishmale4 jewishmale3 jewishmale2 jewishmale

American Indians Native American History R+ Settler Colonialism Text Analysis

Word Clouding: American Indian Men

This Native American history project required me to create additional stop words that might be considered sacred.  Interviewers had not practiced this when these oral histories took place in the 1970’s, but historians do now.  I created an additional set of stop words that by some standards, means that I have already played with the results.

I view this as a crucial component of being a humanist.  I am a humanist first and humanist à la digital second.  Working with the sacred means that I must respect that and honor traditions over conventional digital humanities practices.  I would love to tell you that I struggled with creating an additional list of stop words, but I did not even flinch.  In fact, it was only until after I created the stop list and saw the difference between the pre-additional list and post-additional list that I became concerned.  At the end of the day, I am honoring the lives of the people that I study.  Being a mindful digital humanist has been one of the largest takeaways that I had from this entire project.


Below are selections from single-person interviews:


Charles Little Dog2
Word Cloud from Single American Indian Male
Word Cloud from Single American Indian Male
George Eagle Elk
Word Cloud from Single American Indian Male
Word Cloud from Single American Indian Male

Taken together I can see how family, time, and land are very important.  Of course, in the third one down, I can also see “bullet,” which signifies a series of very important historical battles between the Lakota, Dakota, and the U.S. Federal Government.  In fact, I know that this person was at the Ghost Dance of 1890.


Then when I run them all together, the collective data provides somewhat different results.  Time, land, healing, and assimilation come into the forefront.  Using digital humanist tools like R allows me to hone by argument as a Native American historian.  The statistical analysis demonstrates that American Indians remember U.S. interventions on their land in stark terms: traditional and forced-assmiliative pathways.  “Land” is especially telling because it tells two stories: one that land is part of who the Lakota and Dakota peoples are and also that the U.S. and white settlers endeavored to first seize their land, and second, to change their relationship to the land.

Word Cloud All American Indian Male
Word Cloud All American Indian Male
Word Cloud All American Indian Male
Word Cloud All American Indian Male