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July 26, 2019
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v2.1 Reference
July 26, 2019
14 b&w illus., 3 maps
9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
1.55 Pounds (US)
$105.00 USD, £76.00 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Reclaiming the Reservation

Histories of Indian Sovereignty Suppressed and Renewed

In the 1970s the Quinault and Suquamish, like dozens of Indigenous nations across the United States, asserted their sovereignty by applying their laws to everyone on their reservations. This included arresting non-Indians for minor offenses, and two of those arrests triggered federal litigation that had big implications for Indian tribes' place in the American political system. Tribal governments had long sought to manage affairs in their territories, and their bid for all-inclusive reservation jurisdiction was an important, bold move, driven by deeply rooted local histories as well as pan-Indian activism. They believed federal law supported their case.

In a 1978 decision that reverberated across Indian country and beyond, the Supreme Court struck a blow to their efforts by ruling in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that non-Indians were not subject to tribal prosecution for criminal offenses. The court cited two centuries of US legal history to justify their decision but relied solely on the interpretations of non-Indians.

In Reclaiming the Reservation, Alexandra Harmon delves into Quinault, Suquamish, and pan-tribal histories to illuminate the roots of Indians' claim of regulatory power in their reserved homelands. She considers the promises and perils of relying on the US legal system to address the damage caused by colonial dispossession. She also shows how tribes have responded since 1978, seeking and often finding new ways to protect their interests and assert their sovereignty.

Reclaiming the Reservation is the 2020 winner of the Robert G. Athearn Prize for a published book on the twentieth-century American West, presented by the Western History Association.

About the Author

Alexandra Harmon is professor of American Indian studies at the University of Washington. She is the author of Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History and editor of The Power of Promises: Perspectives on Pacific Northwest Indian Treaties.


"Reclaiming the Reservations is a masterpiece, and nothing short of it. Alexandra Harmon's fair, deeply insightful, and brightly written book addresses the central objectives of modern Indian nations in a fashion never done before."—Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations

"This book illuminates the problem of Indian jurisdiction over non-Indians within reservation boundaries, demonstrating with piercing clarity the ever-changing terrain of tribal governance vis a vis states and the federal government."—Jean O'Brien, author of Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England

"Why do US citizens – from drunk street brawlers to Supreme Court Justices – object to Indian tribes' maintaining law and order on reservations when that means police powers over non-Indians? Learn the facts the Supreme Court ignored."—Tsianina Lomawaima, co-author of To Remain an Indian: Lessons in Democracy from a Century of Native American Education

"Harmon examines the landmark Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish from the Native perspective and situates that infamous ruling within the broader context of American Indian history, emphasizing tribal agency in the quest for meaningful self-rule.Alexandra Harmon"—Andrew H. Fisher, author of Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity

"Harmon brilliantly explains how tribal nations have sought to assert sovereignty through the extension of civil and criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians living within the boundaries of their nations. Reclaiming the Reservation is precisely the kind of history that the field desperately needs."—Daniel M. Cobb, author of Native Activism in Cold War America: The Struggle for Sovereignty

"[Harmon] provides an informative context behind the 1978 Oliphant v. Suquamish decision, which removed tribal jurisdictions over non-Indians. This background elucidates the history of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians, numerous court decisions favoring tribal sovereignty, the evolution of Indian-issue lawyers, tribal decision makers, the place of activists in the campaigns for sovereignty, and case studies of both the Quinault and Suquamish reservation issues. Students of policy and law will benefit from the extensive analysis of the Oliphant case, which includes plausible alternative approaches that might have made the tribal position more effective."—Choice

"Reclaiming the Reservation should be essential reading for anyone interested in federal Indian law and policy andis useful for those who want to know more about how historians and judges tell stories about the past."—Western Historical Quarterly

"Like all good historiography, the story is rich in people with big ideas and chutzpah who beat their heads against convention and established institutions...Reclaiming the Reservation gives them proper recognition as the yeast that gave western Washington tribes the confidence to reassert their cultural and political identities and reclaim collective power in the twentieth century."—Native American and Indigenous Studies Journal

"[T]his clearly written and detailed book... is much more than the story of one lost case. It also documents the ongoing activism and ingenuity of the Quinault and the Suquamish communities and shows, most importantly, what happened outside of the courtroom—in congressional hearings, forests, universities, tribal offices, beaches, intertribal meetings, conferences, and fishing grounds."—Pacific Historical Review

"Reclaiming the Reservation offers an unmatched synopsis of Native American sovereignty cases in a rich historical narrative that emphasizes Indigenous activism. Harmon moves seamlessly between local and national efforts, successfully articulating legal arguments in a human context... [S]imply an exceptional contribution that makes plain an otherwise-complicated field."—Journal of American History

"[A] surprisingly well-balanced look at how tribes have weathered colonialism as tribal nations continue to examine ways to affirm their sovereignty."—Tribal College Journal

"[T]his body of work opens critical intertribal dialogue with Native readers across Indian country[A] pivotal Native American studies work that boldly demands the inclusion of community experiences outside the courts as a manner to revisit, rewrite, and re-right legal and policy analyses."—American Indian Culture and Research Journal

"Although Harmon has worked as an academic for the past few decades, teaching in the American Indian studies program at the University of Washington, she previously represented various tribes in Washington state, including a stint as the staff attorney for the Suquamish. Harmon makes clear from the outset that she is by no means a neutral, dispassionate observer of the history she writes about... [and she] builds her case through a careful study of Quinault and Suquamish tribal histories."—American Historical Review

9780295745855 : reclaiming-the-reservation-harmon
Paperback / softback
424 Pages
$35.00 USD
9780295745862 : reclaiming-the-reservation-harmon
424 Pages
$105.00 USD

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The Power of Promises

Alexandra Harmon, John Borrows
Feb 2009 - University of Washington Press
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