Sunday, November 18, 2012

Life in Post-Roman Britain

On the subject of post-Roman Britain....
An advance article on my book, Daily Life in Arthurian Britain, now appears on the Ultimate History Project website:

Check it out now if you are interested because it will soon go behind a subscription pay wall.

Daily Life in Arthurian Britain is scheduled for release on 4/30/2014.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The American Indian Movement, part 1

What is AIM?

I cannot speak with established authority about the American Indian Movement, but I will describe my studied perception of it and leave others to consider their own interpretation. AIM began as a protest movement, a channeling of anger seeking a voice and a response. As an entity bearing this name, AIM began in 1968 in Minneapolis in response to brutal police actions. A year later, the nineteen-month Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island, then lying empty and derelict, off San Francisco’s coast began. Other properties were occupied including an abandoned naval station near Minneapolis and (briefly) the Bureau of Indian Affairs central building in Washington, DC. The occupations achieved attention and were effective, but did not fully satisfy the participants. More natives joined the movement. The focus switched to organizing, creating programs, defining and solving problems, and above all, bettering the lives of native Americans. Possible definitions of today’s AIM, more than thirty years after its inception, may be expressed as follows:

AIM provides programs and organization to assist American Indian communities.
AIM helps to articulate the claims of native nations, their treaty rights, and sovereignty.
AIM seeks to renew and support Indian spirituality.
AIM supports the cultures of native peoples throughout all of the Americas.
AIM promotes self-determination and the recovery of indigenous rights from current state governments.

The Beginnings

Within a few years, AIM went from protests against a harmful and repressive authority to occupations and onward to the promotion of self-help strategies. AIM began to articulate frameworks for American Indian cultural survival. First, education improvement with cultural awareness was addressed. Then language preservation, advocacy programs, networking and communications, pursuit of legal claims based on signed treaties, improved and essential housing, native prison programs providing educational, spiritual and cultural support, and more; all these concerns became active and ongoing projects supported by AIM.

The Genesis of Movements

If the beginnings of AIM sound a little bit like the current Occupy Wall Street movement, that should not be surprising. Successful movements naturally begin as angry protests that can no longer be contained. They solidify as marches, as in the civil rights era and the much earlier suffrage movement, and as occupations. Many a “sit-in” was staged in protest of the Viet Nam war. A long-term movement will not stop there. It will seek out goals and solutions. It will fight for new legislation and court rulings. It will create structures for managing its programs. At the time these efforts are taking place, the process looks messy and disordered. Observers are not impressed and often do not take the movement seriously. They do not expect anything to be changed in the end. They are often very wrong.

Indian Invisibility

I bring up AIM’s correspondence in form and momentum to other movements, past and present, not to talk about the other movements but to put AIM in perspective with them for readers who lack a personal connection. Otherwise, it would be too easy to see AIM as just a small footnote. It seems that in the culture of the United States and other current American nations, the concerns of native peoples are too easily overlooked. Perhaps this is partly due to low native population numbers and the remoteness of most native communities. To non-Indians, the far-reaching changes brought about by AIM for native peoples are not visible and therefore can’t be very important. Only when an issue arises concerning Indian casinos, fishing rights, or some other area of direct conflict with government and popular non-Indian activities do other Americans become aware of Indian points of view. This creates a fallacy of native insignificance which is far from the truth.

I plan to post in the upcoming weeks a short series of blog entries about AIM. This can in no way be a thorough treatment of the subject, but I will cover some important areas where Indian nations have been changing their relationship with the modern states of the Americas.

Next and not in chronological order: The Indian Occupations of Alcatraz Island, 1964-1971

Selected Resources:

Everett, Dianna (n.d.) “American Indian Movement” IN Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society. (Accessed January 21, 2012)

Grand Governing Council (n.d.) “American Indian Movement” (Accessed January 21, 2012)

Miner, Marlyce (n.d.) “The American Indian Movement.” (Accessed January 21, 2012) [This is part of a larger publication, but I have not been able to find its source for full citation. If anyone can help me with a better identification, I would be grateful. It is published on the Mountains of History 2.0 web site at, well worth an investigation.]

Wittstock, Laura Waterman, and Elaine J. Salinas (n.d.) “A Brief History of the American Indian Movement.” (Accessed January 21, 2012) [written in or after 2006]

WyteDove, uploader (2011) “Trudell.” (Accessed January 21, 2012) – a film, “John Trudell (born February 15, 1946) is a Native American-Mexican author, poet, actor, musician, and former political activist. He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes' takeover of Alcatraz beginning in 1969, broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. During most of the 1970s, he served as the chairman of the American Indian Movement, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Hawaiian Sovereignty That Was

On July 6, 2011, a scant month before I had the chance to visit Hawaii for the first time, the state’s Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill officially recognizing Native Hawaiians as the “only indigenous, aboriginal, maoli population of Hawaii.” The intent is to give native Hawaiians a path toward self-determination, something they have lacked. The bill is not without controversy, however. Many Hawaiians feel that that the original 1898 annexation of their islands into the United States was an illegal act negating any ability of the current state government to govern. Others argue that the bill creates two separate entities: Hawaiians and Native Hawaiians, thus increasing segregation rather than unity.

A tourist in Hawaii is scarcely aware of the continuing turmoil underlying the status of native Hawaiians. The history of Hawaii’s transition to statehood is a discouraging chapter on all sides. Prior to annexation, Hawaii had been governed by a constitutional monarchy under Queen Lili’uokalani who had ascended the throne in 1891. The new queen attempted to strengthen the interests of native Hawaiians against American economic and political expansion. Ever since Captain James Cook landed at Oahu in 1778, western nations and western interests had sought to control Hawaii’s destiny.

In 1893 Lili’uokalani was overthrown by a party of American businessmen supported by the American diplomats on the island and unofficially by a contingent of Marines from the warship, U.S.S. Boston. A provisional government was imposed. A first attempt to annex the islands in 1897 was blocked in the U.S. Congress by the Hawaiian Patriotic League. However, Hawaiian sovereignty fell to political expediency the next year. The Spanish American War flared up in 1898, and the possibility of building a Pacific naval base was of sudden strategic importance. By July 12, 1898, Congress had officially annexed the Hawaiian islands.

After James Cook’s landing, trading ships from Britain and the United States began to arrive. Faced with great foreign power, it was natural for a native leader to think of uniting the Hawaiians under one rule. From 1790 to 1810, King Kamehameha fought internal wars until all the islands submitted to his authority. Kamehameha faced first British then Russian efforts to establish colonies. Christian missionaries from New English began arriving in substantial numbers in the 1820s. Despite colonization efforts, in 1842-1843, both Britain and America separately recognized Hawaii’s independence under the Kamehameha dynastic line.

After that line ended in 1872, rulers were elected. During this time, the foreign businessmen saw the royal line as the focal point of native opposition to their own business interests which derived from a rapidly growing lucrative trade with the United States. Gradually the businessmen coerced effective control of Hawaii’s government until under King Kalakaua, the business interests succeeded in replacing the monarchy’s executive cabinet with members of their own choosing. After 1891, Queen Lili’uokalani, Kalakaua’s sister and successor, pushed for a new constitution returning power to Hawaiians and the monarchy, but the business leaders, many of whom were sugar speculators supported by some missionaries, responded by overthrowing her government, placing her under house arrest, and attempting to present their actions as a creation of representational government in the face of monarchic tyranny. Sanford Dole, son of missionaries and a local politician (he was cousin to James Dole, the pineapple entrepreneur), became the temporary head of the provisional government.

Prior to western contact, native Hawaiians had developed the political organization of the islands to the level of chiefdom. Chiefdoms, according to anthropologists, are regional systems integrating several villages under an elite class of leaders who control and manage local resources. The people make obligatory payments to the chief, thus establishing his rank and giving him prestige. In return, the chief must provide for the safety, security and comfort of his people. Some chiefdoms are simple while others become large and complex. In eighteenth century Hawaii, many chiefdoms existed throughout the islands, but there were hierarchical connections among them. Some chiefs, the ali’i, were more important than others and were believed to be the direct descendants of gods. Kinship with the gods added to the power of the ali’i. Lesser chiefs, the konohiki, were nevertheless related to the ali’i. The common people of Hawaiian society were called the maka’ainana. These three social statuses were so discrete that virtually no intermarriage occurred. Before the institution of kingship, the Hawaiians recognized a paramount chief whom they called the ali’i nui.

Considering these sociopolitical developments, pre-contact Hawaii was already well on its way to becoming a monarchic state on its own. Perhaps the contact initiated by James Cook hurried this process along, but it may well have occurred on its own. Nevertheless, once faced by a need to withstand foreign pressures, the ali’i under ali’i nui Kamehameha quickly consolidated their power.


Baehr, Brooks. 2011. State Officially Recognizes Hawaii’s Indigenous People. Hawaii News Now. July 7, 2011. (accessed November 9, 2011)

Hanke, Jon. 2010. Today in 1898: Hawaii Annexed by United States. Westlaw Insider. August 12, 2010. (accessed November 9, 2011)

National Archives. n.d. Teaching With Documents: The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii. Based on: Schamel, Wynell and Charles E. Schamel. 1999. The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii. Social Education (November/December 1999), v. 63(7):402-408. (accessed November 9, 2011)

The Hawaiian Story. 1947. Congressional Digest (November 1947), v. 26(11):269-275.

Recommended Reading:

Silva, Noenoe K. 2004. Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 123-163.