Deloria, Vine, Jr. Frances Svensson - Essay

Frances Svensson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties Deloria argues that] Indian tribes are, or should be under treaty law, semi-autonomous and self-determining communities….

The usual claim of "pragmatists" in Indian policy today is that it is too late to redress the grievances of the past. Indians are too few, too politically and economically impotent, too little endowed with the capacity for self-improvement. Deloria chooses to counter these arguments with a comparative study of the political, economic, and educational profiles of various independent and semi-independent states recognized internationally. (p. 1306)

The argument, of course, is that "contract sovereignty" is akin to "protectorate" status, which has "a long history of acceptance in international diplomatic practice, even though at times the states in question have had difficulty maintaining their independence."… Such recognition would "clarify the status of Indian tribes and eliminate the inconsistencies that are presently found in the federal relationship with Indians."… Deloria ends the book by outlining steps to accomplish this reworking of the federal principle, based on negotiation between the tribes and the federal government.

The idealism in this idea," Deloria acknowledges, "is obvious."… So perhaps are some of the flaws. Legal arguments about Indian sovereignty are controversial; the international parallels shaky. The mysteries of independence and dependence often seem to defy rational analysis. Most serious is the absence of a thorough-going discussion of the dynamics of an American politics which would permit so drastic a re-structuring of political reality on behalf of Indians. Deloria raises far more questions than he answers. But they are provocative questions, reaching beyond the Indian case. (p. 1307)

Frances Svensson, "Book Reviews and Essays: 'Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties'," in The American Political Science Review (copyright, 1976, by The American Political Science Association), Vol. 70, No. 4, December, 1976, pp. 1306-07.