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American Indians, American Imperialism, and Defying Empire at Home and Abroad

  • Author(s): Miller, Robert
  • Advisor(s): Trafzer, Clifford
  • et al.

At the turn of the twentieth century, American Indians defended their communities by challenging the racial and moral assumptions that buttressed Euro-American claims of superiority. Native writers understood how the rhetoric of civilization and progress cast American Indians as backward, helping to justify the federal government's violation of tribal sovereignty, the division of tribal lands, and the suppression of Native cultures. American Indians were fully cognizant of the deleterious consequences of permitting critiques of Native societies and peoples to remain unchallenged. Even Native writers who seemingly embraced the concepts of civilization and progress resisted the denigration of American Indians as they understood how anti-Indian prejudices prevented Native peoples from fully participating in American society. These Native writers recast American Indians as civilized and the equals of Euro-Americans. Previous scholarship examined the parallels in the racial discourses and governmental policies applied to American Indians, African Americans, and colonial populations. This dissertation takes a new approach by placing American Indian conceptions of the American empire at the center of the study in order to demonstrate how Native writers utilized their understanding of the American empire to frame their interpretation of federal Indian policies. In order to bolster their critiques of the United States, Native writers referred to the newly-created overseas American empire in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Native critics of the American empire pointed to the treatment of newly-colonized peoples in the Pacific to condemn the United States as uncivilized and immoral. Native proponents of accommodation drew upon the creation of an American empire to convince other American Indians of the futility of resisting the United States. In addition, Native proponents of accommodation did not use the discourse of civilization and progress in the same manner as Euro-American proponents of assimilation. Instead, these American Indians drew on the language of civilization to urge Euro-Americans to treat Native communities humanely.

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