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Rich Indians

Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History

Alexandra Harmon
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Rich Indians
    Book Description:

    Long before lucrative tribal casinos sparked controversy, Native Americans amassed other wealth that provoked intense debate about the desirability, morality, and compatibility of Indian and non-Indian economic practices. Skillfully blending social, cultural, and economic history, Alexandra Harmon examines seven such instances of Indian affluence and the dilemmas they presented both for Native Americans and for Euro-Americans--dilemmas rooted in the colonial origins of the modern American economy.This wide-ranging book looks at controversies concerning Powhatan economic status and aims during the Virginia colony's first years; the ambitions of some bicultural eighteenth-century Creeks and Mohawks; prospering Indians of the Southeast in the early 1800s; inequality among removed tribes during the Gilded Age; the spending of oil-rich Osages in the Roaring Twenties; resurgent tribal communities from Alaska to Maine in the 1970s; and casinos that have drawn gamblers to Indian country across the United States since the 1990s. Harmon's study not only compels us to look beyond stereotypes of greedy whites and impoverished Indians, but also convincingly demonstrates that Indians deserve a prominent place in American economic history and in the history of American ideas.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0640-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    The late 1990s were a heady time for believers in the bounty of American capitalism. Bullish investors stampeded into the stock market, and share values inflated rapidly in the heat of their frenzy. Week after week, the media announced ballooning personal fortunes, especially from new information technology ventures. Although most people in the United States got no financial boost from the boom, the fortunate ones seemed to show what was possible in an expanding economy. They could gleefully rake in wealth without incurring much public censure.

    Political scientist Andrew Hacker observed in theNew York Timesthat “Americans know the...

  5. 1 “Savages,” Rich and Poor
    (pp. 17-54)

    As the colony of Virginia approached its hundredth anniversary, Robert Beverley took up pen and ink to write the story of that British outpost in North America, his birthplace and home. His account contrasted the colonists’ economic culture with that of the indigenous people. Before English settlers came, Beverley asserted, natives of Virginia had nothing they considered riches except “trifles” made of shell. “It was theEnglishalone that taught them first to put a value on their Skins and Furs, and to make a Trade of them.” Although Beverley was unsure whether that lesson had corrupted the people he...

  6. 2 Indian Gentry
    (pp. 55-91)

    After the American War for Independence ended and the smoke of battle cleared, many people looked to recover property lost in the fray. Among them was Joseph Brant, a renowned loyalist fighter. In 1785, Brant took his search across the Atlantic to ministries and palaces of the British monarchy. His decorous deportment impressed the ladies and gentlemen who wined, dined, and lauded him at banquets, balls, and drawing room receptions. But when Brant asked the Prince of Wales whether promises “made . . . by certain persons . . . during the late war” entitled him to an officer’s wages,...

  7. 3 Civilized Indian Nations
    (pp. 92-132)

    In 1835, President Andrew Jackson, professing a desire to put Indians “beyond the reach of the moral evils . . . hastening . . . [their] destruction,” urged Cherokees to move west of the Mississippi River. Several of their brethren had recently agreed to terms for such a move. The sooner the rest of the nation approved that arrangement with the American government, the sooner Cherokees could begin a “career of improvement and prosperity.” Although Jackson purported to know that a large portion of the Indians had “acquired little or no property in the soil itself, or in any article...

  8. 4 Gilded Age Indians
    (pp. 133-170)

    By 1864, Sarah Bell Watie had lived more than four decades, and she knew from experience that a desire for money could overwhelm nobler aspirations. It might even prompt a person to put profit before the needs of kin or brothersin-arms. So when her husband complained by letter that a delivery of supplies for his Confederate troops was late, Sarah surmised that the supplier was speculating. Her answering letter admonished, “I do not want you to do any thing of that kind I would live on bread and water rather than have it said you had speculated of your people....

  9. 5 Osage Oil Owners
    (pp. 171-208)

    For several days in 1922, a curiously specific question preoccupied the House Committee on Indian Affairs: how much spending money Osage Indians should have. Under a law enacted the previous year, the U.S. government was holding most of the Osages’ personal income in trust accounts and paying out just $4,000 per year—$1,000 per quarter—to each adult who did not have a certificate of competency.¹ Now a new bill in Congress would authorize officials to release additional cash if an Indian requested it for a worthy purpose. Osages could certainly afford added expenditures. Money was flowing into their accounts...

  10. 6 Riches Reclaimed
    (pp. 209-248)

    In May 1928, theNew York Timesannounced that most American Indians, unlike those renowned for their oil wealth, were miserably poor. This revelation came in news of a special report that assessed the effectiveness of the government’s performance as Indians’ guardian. At the request of the Interior Department secretary, independent investigators had visited Indian communities across the country and discovered pervasive poverty. Although the investigators concluded that faulty implementation of federal policy bore much of the responsibility for Indians’ impoverishment, theTimeschose to highlight another explanation in the report: Indians had “never in the past been accustomed to...

  11. 7 Gambling Money
    (pp. 249-280)

    “American Indians Discover Money Is Power.” With that headline in 1993,Fortunemagazine announced its own discovery of Indians who deserved coverage in a publication for and about American business. Over the next decade, enterprising Indians caught the attention of many other magazines and newspapers. Stories ran under headings such as “Oneida Indian Nation Businesses Worth $1,000,000,000,” “Indian Tribes Enjoy Big Payoff from Casinos,” “Tribes Looking to Share the Wealth With Other Indian-Run Companies,” “Tribes Fear Backlash to Prosperity,” and “A Business Empire Transforms Life for Colorado Tribe.” As of 2005, media interest in lucrative tribal ventures showed no sign...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 281-338)
  13. Selected Sources
    (pp. 339-370)
  14. Index
    (pp. 371-388)