Reviewed by Karyn Denny
In the book called, “A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations,” Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a Crow Creek Lakota scholar, critically examined the history of the colonization of the Sioux Nations during the mid-19th century through the late 20th century. Cook-Lynn addressed how the removal and the massacres of the Sioux Nations were justified illegally and immorally by cruel acts of genocide. She criticized the imperialistic attitudes of Euro-Americans and in an assertive tone, addressed how the U.S. congressional actions like the Major Crimes Act of 1883 and the Allotment Act of 1887 left irreversible damage to her people. She scrutinized how two corrupt U.S. theories; the doctrine of discovery and plenary power, have wrought out today’s impoverished Indian reservations, illegal land seizures, and outdated Indian laws and policies that need serious revisioning, and frauds and imposters of all kinds who have taken advantage of tribal citizenship.
Her book is divided into four parts, in which she discussed the works from various scholars and writers who have directly addressed and some who have not tried so much as to address the brute force of Indian removal. Cook-Lynn abashed those who showed hatred and denounced those who conveyed inaccuracies such as Dee Brown’s book, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” Cook-Lynn asserted that Brown lacked a succinct understanding about the turmoil that American Indians suffered and continue to deal with post-trauma. Cook-Lynn also stated that Brown’s book came off as more “colonial” than “indigenous” and was a “suffocating sympathetic” read that does not help to address colonization as a problem that needs to be fixed, but a regretful history with no resolve and the only thing to do is just move on (15-17).
On the flip side, Cook-Lynn showed support to several scholars (Vine Deloria Jr., David E. Wilkins, Peter d’Errico, to name a few) who are defiant against colonization, but she also questioned writers and/or thinkers who submit or give into (such as Kim Tallbear) the anti-Indian legislations, movements, and ideologies, and advises those who are Indigenous academic researchers to continue addressing indigeneity as a category of analysis.
Cook-Lynn called the contents in her book 25 years of “private expressions” and garnered while she taught Native studies at Eastern Washington University (iix). As a novice reader to her work, her essays have helped me to understand the continued problems with Indian laws and policies and to look more closely at cases that used plenary power and doctrine of discovery for justification. She’s shed light and has given a voice to the Dakota men who are in her case study photo (in Part III of her book) that was taken back in 1888, in which I learned that these men did not agree sign away 7.7 million acres of Sioux land. Instead, it was an enforced “sign or starve” demand (139).
I believe that Elizabeth Cook-Lynn raises complex, but very important issues that are familiar and some are not quite as familiar (without knowing the inside stories) and I know that her some of her criticisms can come off as bitter and wild at times, but she tells us the raw truth about how America used genocidal tactics to take Indian lands and create corrupt policies in order to exterminate American Indians. Her work is a contribution to all Indigenous peoples today who seek re-examination of colonization and as a future native scholar; I hope to see reconciliation to these past depredations and the erasure of the U.S. congressional plenary power.
Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. A Separate Country: Postcoloniality and American Indian Nations. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2012.