Making Indian Law


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The Hualapai Land Case and the Birth of Ethnohistory

Christian W. McMillen

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In 1941, after decades of struggling to hold on to the remainder of their aboriginal home, the Hualapai Indians finally took their case to the Supreme Court—and won. The Hualapai case was the culminating event in a legal and intellectual revolution that transformed Indian law and ushered in a new way of writing Indian history that provided legal grounds for native land claims. But Making Indian Law is about more than a legal decision.  It’s the story of Hualapai activists, and eventually sympathetic lawyers, who challenged both the Santa Fe Railroad and the U.S. government to a courtroom showdown over the meaning of Indian property rights—and the Indian past.
At the heart of the Hualapai campaign to save the reservation was documenting the history of Hualapai land use. Making Indian Law showcases the central role that the Hualapai and their lawyers played in formulating new understandings of native people, their property, and their past. To this day, the impact of the Hualapai decision is felt wherever and whenever indigenous land claims are litigated throughout the world.

Christian W. McMillen is assistant professor of history and American studies, University of Virginia.

“Highly original, this book offers unique analyses of ethnohistory, the place of Indians in Indian law, and the connections of Indian land rights litigation to the international world.”—Sydney Harring, author of Crow Dog’s Case: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century


"This outstanding book teaches us that ‘Indian law’ is not something dreamed up in Washington, D.C., but something created by Indian people through struggle, imagination and persistence. Every community deserves to be treated with the intelligence and respect that McMillen exhibits in these pages and every American should feel both shame and pride at the story he tells."—Frederick E. Hoxie, Swanlund Professor of History, University of Illinois

“This captivating account of the epic struggle over Hualapai land occupation offers rich insights into American Indian law and also reminds us of how the American legal system, with all its flaws, sometimes stands tall as the ultimate protector of dispossessed peoples.”—Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations

"The author skillfully untangles the legal complexities surrounding the Hualapai land dispute in a readable, informative narrative."—Byron E. Pearson, The Journal of American History

"Essential reading for everyone interested in the rise of modern ethnohistory or modern developments in jurisprudence regarding Native rights and land claims."—William A. Sumruld, New Mexico Historical Review

"[A] breath-taking study. . . . McMillen's thorough, convincing, and utterly intelligible analysis brings an astoundingly complex history to life. . . . This book stands out as one of the finest analyses of how America's Indian peoples reversed powerful forces to preserve their contemporary homelands."—Ned Blackhawk, Australasian Journal of American Studies

"[A] fascinating and rigorous work on twentieth-century Native American History. Scholars exploring the history of U.S. academia, its involvement in the legal system, and the disciplinary emergence of ethnohistory will find rich material here. This book is a must-read for those studying aboriginal land claims across the globe, for by the end McMillen provides convincing evidence that, "Wherever and whenever indigenous land claims are litigated the shadow of the Hualapai case falls over the proceedings.""—Angela Parker, Comparative Studies in Society and History

Selected as a finalist for the 2008 Carolyn Bancroft Prize given by the Denver Public Library.

Winner of the 2008 William Nelson Cromwell Book Award, given by the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation

Winner of the 2008 John Phillip Reid Book Award, given by the American Society for Legal History.

Winner of the 2008 Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin Prize, given by the American Society for Ethnohistory.
ISBN: 9780300143294
Publication Date: February 10, 2009
304 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
2 maps
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