Better Foundation Necessary for Understanding US and Indigenous Relations

While Kevin Bruyneel’s novel The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S. – Indigenous Relations, as a whole, is an important read, the section “A Complicated Relationship” is critical to understanding US and tribal relations. Bruyneel discusses various points in history where the tribal nations stood their ground and demanded action from the US government, this section relates to the reader the importance of how the latter sees the Native peoples.

To not understate the importance of Bruyneel’s book, it is critical for the reader to understand the level of care and the intensity of the authors study. He begins the books with “A Note on Terminology.” He takes care to “cite the name of a particular tribe or nation” and states that the use of “tribe” and “nation” are often thought to be “interchangeable.” Bruyneel makes it a point, however, “to use the designation preferred by the people under discussion.” He also makes a note to the reader that “the lowercase word indigenous is the term most commonly used in international forums” and defines it for further use as “[a denotation of] individuals and tribes who experienced or are descendants of those who experienced European colonization and settlement over the past five centuries” (ix). Again, it is critical to understand that Bruyneel is taking exceed amounts of care when writing about indigenous people, and that fact should not be forgotten when critiquing the book.

The entirety of the first three chapters of Bruyneel’s book focus on historical moments that involved specific tribes and US authorities. For example, in this first chapter the focus is on the North and South Cherokee Nations’ individual decisions to join the Confederacy. While this is an important historical glimpse, Bruyneel fails to give the reader more context about US and indigenous relationships. The most important section, for reader comprehension, is only three-pages and titled “A Complicated Relationship.” The title itself is an understatement when exploring US and indigenous peoples’ relationships, but Bruyneel makes some important arguments in the short section. He describes the “political statues of indigenous tribes as that of… awkward position[innings]” as the “indigenous tribes were recognized as sovereign governments that did not have the same legal standing as foreign nations… and were more like ‘wards’ of the federal government” (3). The best definition of the indigenous tribes’ status is described by Bruyneel as “neither fully foreign nor seamlessly assimilated to the American political system” (5). He states that it is at best “a battle between American effort to solidify inherently contingent boundaries and an indigenous effort to work and across these boundaries” (6).

It is imperative that Bruyneel finish this discussion as it is an area that needs discussion and more examples. While the author does provide historical examples that involve the courts and indigenous people fighting for their rights, it is important to know exactly how the two entities view each other. As a reader, it is not clear at the beginning and the awkward positioning of this section makes reader comprehension all the more difficult. At best, Bruyneel’s book seems disorganized. It is understood that he wishes to give the reader specific glimpses at the important historical points for the Indigenous people, but without a firm grasp of how the US fully relates and responds makes for an awkward read. For a more comprehensive idea, it is best to read Bruyneel’s section “A Complicated Relationship” before reading the specific points in history.



Bruyneel, Kevin. “A Complicated Relationship.” The Third Space of Sovereignty: The Postcolonial Politics of U.S.-indigenous Relations. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2007. 3-6. Print.



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