Facing East from Indian Country Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 38-page guide for “Facing East from Indian Country” by Daniel K. Richter includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 6 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Cultural Accommodation and Racial Antagonism.
In his 2001 book Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, historian Daniel K. Richter presents an account of early U.S. history from a rarely seen perspective: that of the American Indians. Using primary sources and imaginative reconstruction, the book reorients us to see the arrival of the European settlers, the growth of the colonies, and the founding of the American Republic as Natives might have experienced them, exploring would happen if a historical narrative didn’t assume that European dominance over Native Americans was inevitable.
Facing East from Indian Country is divided into six essay-length chapters chronicling the period between Native people’s first awareness of Europeans, from the time when Eastern tribes were treated as sovereign nations by the British colonies until the American Revolution redefined Natives as a monolithic and undifferentiated enemy group. Native Americans first learned about the existence of Europeans through rumors generated by the expeditions of Spain’s Hernando de Soto in 1539 and France’s Jacques Cartier in 1534. At first, the European presence took a backseat to bigger sociological changes, like the collapse of chiefdoms in the Mississippian complex of Cahokia. Prolonged contact with Europeans, however, created new challenges: biological, economic, and ecological.
Through trade relationships with the Euro-Americans and attempts to negotiate diplomatic treaties, Native Americans showed resilience and inventiveness in the face of change rather than simply buckling under it. Richter recasts three key figures—Pocahontas, Kateri Tekakwitha, and King Philip Metacom—from a Native perspective to illustrate how American Indians puzzled out how to live alongside European colonists. A period of relative peace, prosperity, and balance under the rule of the British crown weakened in the racial division that followed in the wake of the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War). Through narratives of Pontiac’s Rebellion and tales of the Paxton Boys, the author demonstrates how relations between Whites and Natives grew more strained as revolutionaries became fixated on expansion as a way of rebelling against the policies of the British crown.
Although friendly overtures were made by President George Washington’s administration, relations between the U.S. government and the Indians deteriorated thereafter, and Natives were recast as an enemy to be battled in every possible arena: militarily, socially, and culturally. The book ends with an Epilogue that explores a speech by William Apess, a 19th-century author of Native American descent. The speech compares King Philip Metacom favorably to George Washington, creating parallels between the resistance of the Native Americans to the cause of the American Revolution and appealing to Natives and Whites to reject racial division and live in harmony—a road regrettably not taken.
In discussing the indigenous peoples of North America, Richter alternates the terms “Indians,” “Native Americans,” and “Natives” for the sake of variety and nuance. The terms “European,” “Euro-American,” and “White” are similarly used. The book includes several maps that show the American colonies and the location of various Indian tribes and linguistic families, thus driving home the Native-centered perspective that the book presents. Also included are drawings, paintings, and cartoons from the period, as well as a conjectural diorama reconstructing an Indian village.