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Linking Arms Together: American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, 1600-1800

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Robert Williams attempts to write Indians back into Indian law by developing a greater appreciation for the contributions of American Indian legal visions and demonstrating how ancient treaty visions can speak to the modern, multicultural age. Prior to European colonization, in countless treaties, councils, and negotiations, American Indians had adhered to the principles c Robert Williams attempts to write Indians back into Indian law by developing a greater appreciation for the contributions of American Indian legal visions and demonstrating how ancient treaty visions can speak to the modern, multicultural age. Prior to European colonization, in countless treaties, councils, and negotiations, American Indians had adhered to the principles contained in traditional rituals such as the Gus-Wen-Tah, the sacred treaty belt, for achieving justice between different peoples. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the survival of the European colonies in North America required reaching accommodation with surrounding Indian tribes. However, European Common law and the white man's Indian law eventually became dominant, and came to be regarded as the salvation of the Indian in North America. Williams maintains there is an important need for a more complete account of the legal visions of the American Indians. In this work, he examines the Indians' role in the history of legal traditions which have determined Indian rights in the U.S., including the Indian conceptions of justice, their traditions, and practices. Doing so is essential to protecting Indian tribalism's survival under U.S. law. In addition, understanding how the American Indian legal traditions have worked to help perpetuate Indian tribalism might also assist in beginning to understand how U.S. law may achieve racial justice more generally.


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Robert Williams attempts to write Indians back into Indian law by developing a greater appreciation for the contributions of American Indian legal visions and demonstrating how ancient treaty visions can speak to the modern, multicultural age. Prior to European colonization, in countless treaties, councils, and negotiations, American Indians had adhered to the principles c Robert Williams attempts to write Indians back into Indian law by developing a greater appreciation for the contributions of American Indian legal visions and demonstrating how ancient treaty visions can speak to the modern, multicultural age. Prior to European colonization, in countless treaties, councils, and negotiations, American Indians had adhered to the principles contained in traditional rituals such as the Gus-Wen-Tah, the sacred treaty belt, for achieving justice between different peoples. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the survival of the European colonies in North America required reaching accommodation with surrounding Indian tribes. However, European Common law and the white man's Indian law eventually became dominant, and came to be regarded as the salvation of the Indian in North America. Williams maintains there is an important need for a more complete account of the legal visions of the American Indians. In this work, he examines the Indians' role in the history of legal traditions which have determined Indian rights in the U.S., including the Indian conceptions of justice, their traditions, and practices. Doing so is essential to protecting Indian tribalism's survival under U.S. law. In addition, understanding how the American Indian legal traditions have worked to help perpetuate Indian tribalism might also assist in beginning to understand how U.S. law may achieve racial justice more generally.

36 review for Linking Arms Together: American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, 1600-1800

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dorothea

    Robert A. Williams, Jr., who is a Lumbee law professor (currently at the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program), had previously written a book on The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest. He decided to write another, a "complementary study" that outlined Native people's legal and diplomatic discourse during the Encounter period. The result is Linking Arms Together. Williams' main sources are treaties that were written down by European colo Robert A. Williams, Jr., who is a Lumbee law professor (currently at the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program), had previously written a book on The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest. He decided to write another, a "complementary study" that outlined Native people's legal and diplomatic discourse during the Encounter period. The result is Linking Arms Together. Williams' main sources are treaties that were written down by European colonists, so most of the treaties he studies are those between Native tribes and European colonial bodies or the early United States. (He sticks to the eastern part of what is now the US and Canada, so there's not much about originally-western tribes and nothing about Latin America.) However, some of these texts include descriptions of older traditions of treaties among Native tribes, and sometimes European observers attended meetings between two or more tribes, and took notes. This is important because Williams finds common elements in treaty-making discourse from tribes all over this part of the continent. There was a cohesive "vision" of "law and peace" that facilitated international diplomacy prior to colonization. In encounters with Europeans, tribes drew on this tradition to shape these new relationships. I liked very much the reasons that Williams gave for why studying these traditions is important. Not only do they illuminate the history of the Encounter era and give necessary context to the beginning of the United States' legal relationship with the tribes, debunking "the story [that] the white man's Indian law [is] the salvation of the Indian in North America," but they offer paradigms for decolonization and the renewal and recreation of treaty relationships for indigenous people today. These aren't new -- Williams refers to an Iroquois diplomat's presentation of the Gus-Wen-Tah (Two Row Wampum treaty belt) to the United Nations Human Rights Commission's Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1988 -- but I think that Linking Arms Together is the first book-length study of pre-United States Native American treaties written to be relevant to current issues. Williams groups examples from different people, places, and events together to identify important ways Native diplomats and leaders contextualized and used treaties ("Treaties as Sacred Texts," "Treaties as Connections," "Treaties as Stories," "Treaties as Constitutions"). Within these chapters he examines metaphors used in treaty-making (different types of kinship, the pipe of peace, the wampum belt, the common bowl, clearing the path through the forest, etc.) which show how people thought about these treaties, when they should be made and how, and what responsibilities and obligations they gave to the treaty partners. Williams shows that in many treaty-making situations between Natives and Europeans, the Native diplomats were trying to teach and advise the newcomers about correct diplomatic procedures, and more generally how European settlements should behave to tribes that were offering to share land and resources with them, and how these settlements could fit into the existing structure of international relations. This really prompts one to imagine and mourn the North America that could have been if European colonizers hadn't willfully misunderstood and disregarded these lessons -- but on the other hand, it's an excellent antidote to the "Indians sold all their land for trinkets" myth. The only faults I found with this book were really those that Williams anticipates. As he says at the beginning of the conclusion:This book has explored a few of the ways Indians of the Encounter era spoke about treaty relationships. Only the broadest of themes -- those easiest to identify and pursue at the outset of such an immense interpretive project -- have been developed here. Many other pathways are to be discovered for understanding the complex language of Indian forest diplomacy. Variations and the distinctive vocabularies of large numbers of tribes remain to be examined in all of their rich, diverse particularity. Discontinuities and adaptations over time to the absorptive dynamics of the West's "will to empire" need to be explained in serious and detailed scholarly analyses. What has been essentialized must now be dissolved by scrutinizing the singular responses of different tribes to the centrifugal forces of colonizing power.I did want particularity, and I was a bit frustrated by how Williams sometimes breaks up the story of a diplomatic meeting in order to use one part of it as an example for one metaphor, and another example elsewhere. And because Williams is interested in emphasizing a general, cohesive tradition that many eastern tribes drew on in their diplomatic discourse, some of the book feels a bit repetitive even when he's using different examples. However, historians are now following up on Williams' recommendations, so I'm looking forward to reading more detailed, specific analyses of particular tribes' treaty discourse. (For example, Leanne Simpson writes about her tribe's history in "Looking after Gdoo-naaganinaa: Precolonial Nishnaabeg Diplomatic and Treaty Relationships," which can be found in Native Historians Write Back: Decolonizing American Indian History, edited by Susan A. Miller and James Riding In.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Qwo-Li

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Bigornia

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eilise

  5. 5 out of 5

    Malea Powell

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shady Hafez

  7. 5 out of 5

    George Pappas

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lady Tarisa

  9. 4 out of 5

    B_ecks_i

  10. 4 out of 5

    John

  11. 4 out of 5

    Grahm Wiley-Camacho

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ignacio Gallup-Diaz

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ching-In

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amit Sharma

  15. 5 out of 5

    Krupa

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  17. 5 out of 5

    Luc

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Suagee-beauduy

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Walters

  20. 5 out of 5

    Korri

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pj Blair

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maighdlin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dani

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tasha Nins

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dara Wawatie-Chabot

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mariana

  28. 4 out of 5

    Raine Baljak

  29. 5 out of 5

    Billy

  30. 4 out of 5

    J9

  31. 5 out of 5

    Jaime Morse

  32. 4 out of 5

    Ai Miller

  33. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

  34. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  35. 4 out of 5

    C

  36. 4 out of 5

    Ray Auger

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