North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence

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Despite evidence of warfare and violent conflict in pre-Columbian North America, scholars argue that the scale and scope of Native American violence is exaggerated. They contend that scholarly misrepresentation has denigrated indigenous peoples when in fact they lived together in peace and harmony. In rebutting that contention, this groundbreaking book presents clear evidence—from multiple academic disciplines—that indigenous populations engaged in warfare and ritual violence long before European contact. In ten well-documented and thoroughly researched chapters, fourteen leading scholars dispassionately describe sources and consequences of Amerindian warfare and violence, including ritual violence. Originally presented at an American Anthropological Association symposium, their findings construct a convincing case that bloodshed and killing have been woven into the fabric of indigenous life in North America for many centuries.

The editors argue that a failure to acknowledge the roles of warfare and violence in the lives of indigenous North Americans is itself a vestige of colonial repression—depriving native warriors of their history of armed resistance. These essays document specific acts of Native American violence across the North American continent. Including contributions from anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and ethnographers, they argue not only that violence existed but also that it was an important and frequently celebrated component of Amerindian life. 

Native American activist Russell Means once wrote “Before the whites came, our conflicts were brief and almost bloodless, resembling far more a professional football game than the lethal annihilations of European conquest.” Such an ethnocentric statement is demonstrably false. Yet this revisionist and sanitized view is the prevailing narrative among most institutions in academia (as well as media outlets) today.

“North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence” thoroughly debunks this widely accepted view that Native Americans fought bloodless conflicts against each other. The authors draw from a wide spectrum of disciplines. To go further, what really sets this book apart is that counters this prevailing revisionist and sanitized narrative in a responsible, appropriate, and concise manner. The book masterfully takes into account the cultural context when examining the motivations behind warfare between Native Americans. There’s no demonizing any culture; nor does it resort to hyperbolic language that so many ethnocentric Native American activists are inclined to.

Readers will not find conflicts between Native Americans and Europeans in this work as this book is dedicated solely to “pre-contact” warfare between tribes. This is what makes this book so unique. So many historians and authors are caught up with warfare between Europeans and Native Americans, that this subject is largely overlooked (and in many cases deliberately dismissed and even covered up).

The book itself is largely an anthropological work that is written by various authors and is edited by Richard J. Charcon and Ruben G. Mendoza. It focuses only on Native American tribes north of Mexico (there’s another great book titled “Latin American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence” that focuses on Tribes in Mexico and Latin America). “North American Indigenous Warfare and Ritual Violence” is just under 300 pages and divided up into 11 chapters. About 40 pages are set aside for references and sources from which the authors draw upon.

I can’t emphasize enough how important a work like this is. Charcon, Mendoza, and all the authors involved in this book have done academia a real service that’s been needed for a long time. This book is very well balanced and professional. I recommend it without reservation.

Below is extra information on the chapters contained within this book (an abridgement).

Chapter 1 covers warfare between Inuit Tribes in Alaska.
Chapter 2 talks about Cree and Inuit warfare from the Cree perspective in the Hudson Bay region.
Chapter 3 tells about warfare in the Northwest Coastal region between Nookta, Kwakiutl, Salish and other tribes.
Chapter 4 discusses Chumash warfare (the longest chapter).
Chapter 5 brings to light warfare in the Pueblo Southwest.
Chapter 6 covers warfare between tribes on the midcontinent of North America.
Chapter 7 Iroquois-Huron warfare is brought to light.
Chapter 8 discusses warfare between tribes living in the Southeast of North America.
Chapter 9 talks about warfare the Eastern region of North America.
Chapter 10 is an overview of warfare throughout the whole North American continent.
Chapter 11 tackles ethical considerations about reporting violence and warfare.

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