Reimagining Indian Country
Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles
University of North Carolina Press 2012
The term “Indian Country” evokes multiple themes. Encompassing legal, geographic, and ideological dimensions, “Indian Country” is commonly understood to be a space outside of or surrounded by the boundaries of the United States. It’s also been used for a pan-tribal, continental consciousness, found, for example, in the popular periodical Indian Country Today. For non-Natives familiar with the term, however, it’s safe to say what the term does not connote: cities. Indian County is “out there” somewhere, a dusty reservation remote from the bustle of modern life.
Historian Nicolas G. Rosenthal argues that this concept is not only problematic but wholly inaccurate. In Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles University of North Carolina Press, 2012), Rosenthal illuminates the forces that drew or forced Indian people to Los Angeles, the “urban Indian capital of the United States,” and the process of forming individual and communal identities away from tribal homelands. Los Angeles typifies a larger trend. In 1940, the census counted 27,000 Indians living in cities, about 8% of the total Native population. By 1950, it spiked to 45%. In 1980, 53%. While the majority of Rosenthal’s compelling narrative focuses on city of angels, he also reckons with these wider trends, reconceptualizing “Indian Country” to reflect a complicated and diverse reality. His intervention is invaluable.