Ned Blackhawk talks Native history with ‘The Rediscovery of America’ 


On Friday, Oct. 20, the University of Connecticut hosted Ned Blackhawk at the ODI Commons in the Student Union. As part of the #IndigiReads program, students and faculty were invited to learn about and discuss issues surrounding the Indigenous presence in America. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) invited Blackhawk to discuss his recent book “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History.”

Blackhawk is a member of the Te-Moak tribe and a professor of history and American studies at Yale University. His book seeks to review history with a focus on Indigenous peoples because the way we are taught history greatly diminishes their presence. “People have been denying natives a place in society since the 16th century,” Blackhawk stated.

“The Rediscovery of America” focuses on six main aspects of Native American history: European colonization in the 1600s was never a predetermined success; Native nations helped shape England’s crisis of empire; the first shots of the American Revolution were prompted by Indian affairs in the interior; California Indians targeted by federally funded militias were among the first casualties of the Civil War; the Union victory forever recalibrated Native communities across the West; and 20th century reservation activists refashioned American law and policy. 

In his research, Blackhawk emphasizes that Native Americans have been sidelined by society, yet the scholarly world has been trying to bring to light how much of an impact Native people have had throughout history. “Society’s view of American history is at odds with academics,” Blackhawk commented. Nowadays, with movements for reform in various nations, he poses the question of how we can reconcile after centuries of Native American discrimination. 

He also emphasizes the fact that there is more to Indigenous and colonial relations than just Britain. The first few chapters of his book highlight the relationships with Spanish, French and British settlements. “A lot of the history before Anglophone settlements was by the Spanish and French,” Blackhawk said. 

The second half of “The Rediscovery of America” focuses on the struggles that Indigenous people fought to have the federal government to recognize their sovereignty. Treaties were constantly disregarded and ignored by Congress. Blackhawk posits that “Congress has been the most ineffective branch of government to stop challenges to Native sovereignty.” 

The main turning point in American history, when the federal government began to gain and use more of its power, was after the Civil War. Usually, when students are taught about the aftermath of the Civil War, they learn about southern Reconstruction and President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination; however, Blackhawk’s book brings their attention to the fact that the settler revolutions of the 1850s devastated Native communities and their land. “Settler booms not only destabilized Indigenous communities but also often led to their displacement. Rapid settlement also initiated acts of unmitigated violence,” Blackhawk writes.  

The encroachment of Indigenous lands only increased over time. The Reservation Era is the period in the late 1800s during which the federal government restricted tribes into specific areas defined by legal boundaries. Blackhawk mentions that “the real tragedy is that once Natives entered what they thought were protected spaces, the government undermined it.” Not to mention the taking of Native children into boarding schools, which Blackhawk stated were, in reality, training schools to turn children into laborers.  

NAISI invites guest speakers regularly and is a hub for members of UConn’s Indigenous community. Their next event is titled “Dialogue with Madeline Sayet,” taking place today from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. in room 217 of the Philip E. Austin Building. Blackhawk also has published other books such as “Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West.” More events and programs can be found on the Native American Cultural Programs website.  

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