cover image Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal. Random House, $38 (752p) ISBN 978-0-525-51103-8

This prodigiously researched and enlightening study from University of North Carolina historian DuVal (Independence Lost) recenters the past 1,000 years of Native North American history around the political power exercised by Indigenous governments. Beginning with the civilizations that established large cities a millennium ago in the Mississippi Valley—with pyramids, castles, and major road and river systems—she explains that agricultural instability during the Little Ice Age (c. 1250) prompted a turn away from urbanization. Native governments morphed into smaller-scale, more egalitarian organizations that encouraged “shared prosperity and shared decision making.” These smaller states developed complex and advanced systems of diplomacy, economics, and governance that, DuVal argues, perplexed, intrigued, and often outmatched the first several centuries of European settlers. One fascinating example is the Mohawk government’s regulation of trade with the Dutch in the 17th century. “Hardly the passive consumers the colonial planners hoped for,” the Mohawks artificially inflated the price of furs so the Dutch could only turn a profit by paying with guns, the Mohawks’ most sought after European good. Tracing numerous Native governments across the ensuing centuries—including the 19th century’s Cherokee republic and alliance of Great Plains nations—DuVal provides a profoundly empowered history of Native America. This keen reframing will appeal to fans of David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. (Apr.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the century in which the Cherokee republic existed.