The names of Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse are often readily recognized among many Americans. Yet the longer, dynamic history of the Lakota - a history from which these three famous figures were created - remains largely untold. In Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power
historian Pekka Hämäläinen
, author of The Comanche Empire,
aims to provide a comprehensive history of Lakota migration, expansion, resistance, survival, and resilience. In turn, Hämäläinen tells the story of a people who “were - and are - shapeshifters with a palpable capacity to adapt to changing conditions around them and yet remain Lakotas.” With the Lakota as its primary historical agents, Lakota America
recontextualizes the history of North America in terms of Lakota actions, interests, and power.
Hämäläinen starts with the history of the Oceti Sakowin in the seventeenth-century western Great Lakes. From there, Hämäläinen follows the Lakota’s western trajectory, first to the Mnisose (Missouri River), and then to the sacred Paha Sapa (Black Hills). In both instances of relocation, the Lakota reinvent themselves while retaining their distinct identity and place in the world. Thanks to - rather than in spite of - their adaptive capacities, says Hämäläinen, the Lakota repeatedly exercise their control of their own destiny as well as the arc of North American history more broadly. Lakota America
places the Lakota at the center of North American history, tracing its course up to the present day, and illuminating how generations of shapeshifting has ensured the endurance and resilience of Lakota peoples, sovereignty, and history today.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the department of history at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter @labrcq.