Daniel Heath Justice and Jean M. O'Brien, editors, Allotment Stories: Indigenous Land Relations Under Settler Siege. University of Minnesota Press, 2021. 333 pp. ISBN: 978-1-5179-0876-8
Allotment Stories: Indigenous Land Relations Under Siege, edited by Daniel Heath Justice and Jean M. O'Brien, gathers thirty stories of allotment (the process by which settler colonists render communal land as private "property") into a multi-genre volume that is equal parts moving and necessary. At times devastating and at others deeply hopeful, every essay in the collection carries a weight atypical in scholarly anthologies; readers are made to feel a sense of responsibility and gratitude for the often-personal narratives, which adds productively to the vast expanse of allotment-related articles, monographs, and edited collections in Native American / Indigenous Studies and related fields. Although it is structured in parts and chapters reminiscent of other edited academic anthologies, the book reads as much as memoire or nonfiction prose as it does a teaching volume, and, indeed, it is easy to imagine the text having wide circulation both in popular bookstores and classrooms.
Editors Justice and O'Brien introduce the volume by pointing to the evergreen timeliness and urgency of conversations about Indigenous land dispossession, citing, in this moment, the immediacy of the McGirt decision (2020) in the United States, devastating fires in the Amazon, and the ongoing "settler siege" of the Wet'suwet'en and Sipekne'katik First Nations in occupied Canada (xii). The concise introduction summarizes settler attitudes that figure Indigenous land relations as "antiquated, primitive, antimodern, [and] impoverishing" (xiv) in ways that helpfully orient readers who are new to the topic of allotment and Indigenous dispossession. Extended quotes from Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Dawes, and Carl Shurz contextualize settler philosophies of allotment in broader discourses of Calvinism and Protestantism, speaking to the many ways that allotment is imbricated in the violence of assimilation and unfettered capitalist desire—which is perhaps more recognizable as violence to an introductory reader. The U.S. emphasis of this summary reflects the titanic global impact of the Dawes Act (U.S. 1887) on settler privatization strategies and the areas of focus in the volume—namely North American, although contributions also include stories from the Pacific, Sápmi, Palestine, and Mexico. Justice and O'Brien acknowledge this focus and also note the silences present in the volume, "for example, Five Tribes Freedmen experiences of dispossession by both whites and non-Black Native people" (xx). In reflecting on the presences, absences, and potentials of the current collection, the editors invite "further interrogation of how U.S. models of privatization have been taken up and customized for Indigenous expropriation elsewhere: Latin America, Fiji, Japan, Australia, and beyond" (xiv).
This capacious invitation for engagement is facilitated by the volume's structure which intersperses its four parts—"Family Narrations of Privatization," "Racial and Gender Taxonomies," "Privatization as State Violence," and "Resistance and Resurgence"—with creative interludes, including poetry and short stories (Leanne Betasamosake Simpson's "Amikode" is not to be missed!). The multi-genre interludes underscore the inherent multi-genre nature of narrative and support the radical sense of community cultivated in the text by creating bridges between the sections, which are more loose groupings than they are hard and fast indicators of content or method.
"Part I: Family Narrations of Privatization" gathers seven narratives of allotment that are deeply personal to the authors, who recount parallel stories of allotment as told in their extended family networks and in colonial documents. Beginning with Sarah Biscarra Dilley's poetic mediation on a "cartography of collusion," this opening gathering implicitly asks readers to be intensely present in their reading and to carry the stories shared therein with a particular reverence. Dilley recounts the story of her grandmother, Louisa, sharing the story as it is told in her family and augmenting it with colonial documentation to illustrate Louisa's savvy navigation of contested cartographies in California. Similarly, Jean O'Brien and Sheryl Lightfoot share stories of matriarchs and other family members who made calculated and complicated decisions to stay on and sometimes sell their allotment lands, speaking to the inherent mobility of Indigenous peoples on the land and through settler colonial structures. Also in this section, contributions by Nick Estes and Joseph Pierce speak to allotment and its constituent processes of adoption and relocation as an "arithmetic of dispossession" (Estes 49), highlighting the many ways that allotment worked to dispossess Indigenous peoples, not just of land, but of kin, stories, and connections. More so than the others, Part I keeps a focus on U.S. allotment policies, with each author explaining an aspect of allotment that specifically affects their family—the Dawes Act, the Land Buy Back Program, and relevant court cases, to name just a few. The centrality of the Dawes Act, which is briefly summarized in each essay, to so many of these stories can feel a bit repetitive when read all at once, but such repetition also serves the purpose of illustrating the nuances of allotment programs and their widely differing deployments across the United States.
The U.S. focus of Part I gives way to a broader North American lens in "Part II: Racial and Gender Taxonomies." Darren O'Toole and Jennifer Adese address the role of allotment in creating Métis racial identities and the legal nuances therein. Both chapters usefully narrate scrip systems (a kind of coupon system wherein scrips worth 160 acres or $160 were distributed to individuals to then be turned into the correct government agency in exchange for their recorded value) unique to Métis-Canadian relations, illustrating how land scrip and money scrip served to dispossess Métis peoples from their land and their Indigenous identities. Jameson R. Sweet takes up similar concerns of mixed-race dispossession in Dakota lands before the Dawes Act. In all three cases, Indigenous peoples, figured as "mixed race" by colonial forces, are uniquely dispossessed both in terms of the allotment process and in terms of their connections to larger kin networks that are not understood as products of "mixed ancestry." The futility of such colonial distinctions is underscored by Candessa Tehee's story, which illuminates the failings of colonial records to account for how "clan and ceremony were inextricably intertwined in what made a person Cherokee" (132). Despite white and Creek paternity in her family's ancestral line, Tehee beautifully articulates, in English and Cherokee, what it means for her to be "full-blood Cherokee"; when understood through clan and by ceremony, it has very little to do with blood. Also in Part II, Susan Gray's contribution resonates with Dilley's from Part I, detailing Na-ji-we-kwa's story to illustrate how Anishinaabe women manipulated the allotment system to maintain their relations to the land, keeping up gendered seasonal rounds that "merge landownership and some wage labor with more traditional ways of living on the land" (120).
Widening the focus, "Part III: Privatization as State Violence" includes stories of privatization from Guåhan, Aotearoa, Hawai'i, and Alaska. In addition to expanding the geographic reach of Allotment Stories, Part III also shifts the temporal scope from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Ever evocative, Christine Taitano DeLisle and Vicente M. Diaz open this section with a reading of roads in Guåhan. Figured in Diaz's section metaphorically and concretely as enablers of sexual(ized) violence against Indigenous peoples and lands, the roads in DeLisle's story are also paths for Indigenous feminist resurgence and resistance. J. Kēhaulani Kauanui and Dione Payne detail recent court cases in Hawai'i and Aotearoa, respectively, narrating settlers' contemporary legal strategies for Indigenous dispossession through privatization. In "'Why does a hat need so much land?'" Shiri Pasternak takes up similar concerns with a focus on narrating the legal landscape surrounding the Unist'ot'en blockade as it relates to Wet'suwet'en land rights and "Crown land." Closing Part III, William Bauer and Benjamin Hugh Velaise story the complex tensions within Indigenous communities as nations and individuals navigate the present conditions of dispossession, capitalism, and environmental change in the United States (Bauer) and in Alaska (Velaise). Both authors deftly characterize multiple approaches to sovereignty in Indigenous communities, some of which have been critiqued as "selling out," while others are accused of unrealistic traditionalism. What is clear from each essay is that Indigenous articulations of sovereignty are multifaceted, polyphonic, and ongoing even in the face of colonial dispossession, assimilation, and privatization.
As promised by Heath and O'Brien in the Introduction, "Part IV: Resistance and Resurgence" gathers stories that inspire and remain hopeful despite ongoing settler colonization. Tero Mustonen and Paulina Feodoroff open Part IV with a history of Sámi-Finnish relations as they relate to land in Sápmi since 1542. Their detailed accounting will likely be of great interest to Indigenous Studies scholars in North America and the Global South who may be unfamiliar with the details of Sámi histories and land relations. The co-authors close with stories of rewilding efforts that have not only invited Finland to reconsider nature conservation efforts, but also encouraged Sámi farmers to join collective efforts towards language and cultural revitalization. More meditatively, Ruby Hansen Murray, tells the story of bison coming home to the Osage nation, returned to their land by way of a $74 million dollar exchange between the Osage nation and Ted Turner. Their arrival, for Murray, punctuates several realities all at once, realities of capitalism and poverty, of dispossession and cultural resurgence, of oil and death, and of the past and the future. Also interested in resurgence and the conditions that make it materially possible, land among them, Megan Baker tells the story of Choctaw language revitalization. Kelly S. McDonough invites us to think across the North-South border in the Western hemisphere, narrating shared "creative tactics employed by Native peoples affected by settler colonial policies and practices" in both Anglophone and Hispanophone contexts, with the specific example of "primordial titles" (245). In a similar geographic context, Argelia Segovia Liga traces the efforts of settler colonization in Mexico City from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, the effects of which, Liga argues, "led directly to the events that would spark the landless movements that clamored for access once again to communally administered lands during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 (255). In "After Property," Munir Fakher Eldin narrates the Palestinian social history of property. The story of Sakhina, a small village in the Beisan valley, presents a variety of definitions and experiences of "property," teaching us that "communal life [is] possible after the loss of official titles" (264). More stories of Indigenous success in the colonial courts are recounted in Khal Schneider and Michael P. Taylor's contributions, which detail both individual and collective petitions for land and rights in Hawai'i, California, Haudenosaunee Territory, and Alaska.
The volume closes with an afterword wherein Stacy L. Leeds reminds us that, although allotment has done unquantifiable damage to Indigenous peoples the world over, it was not a wholly successful endeavor. The stories collected in this volume are testaments to the failure of allotment as an engine of Indigenous erasure, and as we continue on in our languages, on our lands, with one another, we create opportunities to return property to land; as the editors claim in the Introduction, "the engine stops where community begins" (xviii).
Allotment Stories is a vital collection for teaching and research. It is one of few volumes that puts transnational and transhistorical dispossession tactics in direct conversation. The utility of stories about the Dawes Act, land scrip, militarization efforts in the Pacific, global contemporary court cases, and historic accounts of land-relations in Hawai'i, Sápmi, and Palestine being put together in such close proximity cannot be overstated. This is as true for students as it is for researchers, who often have expertise in one or two of these geographic, temporal, or legal contexts and would benefit from being able to engage in a more comparative approach. The glossary, collated by the contributors and editors, as well, is an excellent stand-alone resource for students as well as interested readers with varying degrees of experience in Native American and Indigenous Studies. It is a text of our moment that does the hard work of telling stories for the future.
Tarren Andrews, Yale University