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Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America

Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America


Book Overview: Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America

There is an old, deeply rooted story about America that goes like this: Columbus "discovers" a strange continent and brings back tales of untold riches. The European empires rush over, eager to stake out as much of this astonishing "New World" as possible. Though Indigenous peoples fight back, they cannot stop the onslaught. White imperialists are destined to rule the continent, and history is an irreversible march toward Indigenous destruction.

Yet as with other long-accepted origin stories, this one, too, turns out to be based in myth and distortion. In Indigenous Continent, acclaimed historian Pekka Hämäläinen presents a sweeping counternarrative that shatters the most basic assumptions about American history. Shifting our perspective away from Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, the Revolution, and other well-trodden episodes on the conventional timeline, he depicts a sovereign world of Native nations whose members, far from helpless victims of colonial violence, dominated the continent for centuries after the first European arrivals. From the Iroquois in the Northeast to the Comanches on the Plains, and from the Pueblos in the Southwest to the Cherokees in the Southeast, Native nations frequently decimated white newcomers in battle. Even as the white population exploded and colonists' land greed grew more extravagant, Indigenous peoples flourished due to sophisticated diplomacy and leadership structures.

By 1776, various colonial powers claimed nearly all of the continent, but Indigenous peoples still controlled it--as Hämäläinen points out, the maps in modern textbooks that paint much of North America in neat, color-coded blocks confuse outlandish imperial boasts for actual holdings. In fact, Native power peaked in the late nineteenth century, with the Lakota victory in 1876 at Little Big Horn, which was not an American blunder, but an all-too-expected outcome.

Hämäläinen ultimately contends that the very notion of "colonial America" is misleading, and that we should speak instead of an "Indigenous America" that was only slowly and unevenly becoming colonial. The evidence of Indigenous defiance is apparent today in the hundreds of Native nations that still dot the United States and Canada. Necessary reading for anyone who cares about America's past, present, and future, Indigenous Continent restores Native peoples to their rightful place at the very fulcrum of American history.

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Publication Date2022-09-20
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Pekka Hämäläinen is an esteemed historian and writer, best known for his distinctive work on Native American history and North American environmental history. Hailing from Finland, Hämäläinen is currently the Rhodes Professor of American History and Fellow at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. He has made significant contributions to the field of history with his expansive research and perspectives, challenging traditional understandings of the American West and indigenous history. Hämäläinen’s most prominent book, "The Comanche Empire," won the Bancroft Prize in 2009, credited for transforming perceptions of Native American power dynamics. His more recent title, "Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power," has likewise garnered acclaim, providing a refreshing exploration of the Lakota Nation's rich history. His writings weave an impressive tapestry that reimagines history from an indigenous standpoint, pioneering a shift from Eurocentric narratives. Apart from his scholarly accomplishments, Hämäläinen’s influence extends to his teaching career, where he has mentorship under his belt and has inspired a generation of historians. His work has ushered an era of increasingly nuanced understandings of Native American history, preserving and promoting a vital part of America's cultural heritage. Pekka Hämäläinen continues to shape the academic field with his innovative approaches, ensuring his enduring legacy in the historical community.

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