The Power of Promises

Rethinking Indian Treaties in the Pacific Northwest

Alexandra Harmon and John Borrows

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; History
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 5 maps, 1 tables, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Published with: Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

Treaties with Native American groups in the Pacific Northwest have had profound and long-lasting implications for land ownership, resource access, and political rights in both the United States and Canada. In The Power of Promises, a distinguished group of scholars, representing many disciplines, discuss the treaties' legacies.

In North America, where treaties have been employed hundreds of times to define relations between indigenous and colonial societies, many such pacts have continuing legal force, and many have been the focus of recent, high-stakes legal contests. The Power of Promises shows that Indian treaties have implications for important aspects of human history and contemporary existence, including struggles for political and cultural power, law's effect on people's self-conceptions, the functions of stories about the past, and the process of defining national and ethnic identities.
Alexandra Harmon is associate professor of American Indian studies at the University of Washington and author of Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound. Other contributors are Robert Anderson, Russel Lawrence Barsh, Ravi de Costa, Andrew H. Fisher, Hamar Foster, Chris Friday, Alan Grove, Douglas C. Harris, Kent McNeil, Paige Raigmon, Arthur Ray, and Bruce Rigsby.

"This is a timely and important volume of essays all linked to the idea of treaties. It takes the unusual step of including historians, legal historians, and anthropologists from both sides of the Canada - U.S. border, bringing new insights and approaches to scholars in both directions. Treaties, usually studied as texts in isolation, benefit from being gathered as a corpus and considered alongside the oral treaties that accompanied the written words."
-John Sutton Lutz, University of Victoria
Foreword / John Borrows

Introduction: Pacific Northwest Indian Treaties in National and International Historical Perspective / Alexandra Harmon

I. Colonial Conceits

Negotiated Sovereignty: Indian Treaties and the Acquisition of American and Canadian Territorial Rights in the Pacific Northwest / Kent McNeil

Unmaking Native Space: A Genealogy of Indian Policy, Settler Practice, and the Microtechniques of Dispossession / Paige Raibmon

II. Cross-Border Influences

"Trespassers on the Soil": United States v. Tom and a New Perspective on the Short History of Treaty Making in Nineteenth-Century British Columbia / Hamar Foster and Alan Grove

The Boldt Decision in Canada: Aboriginal Treaty Rights to Fish on the Pacific / Douglas C. Harris

III. Indigenous Interpretations and Responses

Performing Treaties: The Culture and Politics of Treaty Remembrance and Celebration / Chris Friday

Reserved for Whom? Defending and Defining Treaty Rights on the Columbia River, 1880-1920 / Andrew H. Fisher

Ethnogenesis and Ethnonationalism from Competing Treaty Claims / Russel Lawrence Barsh

The Stevens Treaties, Indian Claims Commission Docket 264, and the Ancient One known as Kennewick Man / Bruce Rigsby

IV. Power Relations in Contemporary Forums

"History Wars" and Treaty Rights in Canada: A Canadian Case Study / Arthur J. Ray

History, Democracy, and Treaty Negotiations in British Columbia / Ravi de Costa

Treaty Substitutes in the Modern Era / Robert T. Anderson


"The Power of Promises provides the reader with a complex and international understanding of treaties in the Pacific Northwest. . . . Any scholar or student of Native American history would benefit from reading and wrestling with the ideas and interpretations in this volume."
-Robert McCoy, Journal of American Ethnic History, Spring 2012

"This volume will appeal to people interested in legal studies and Native American history and will challenge readers to rethink what they know about the region's history."
-Patricia Ann Owens, Columbia, Fall 2011

"The Power of Promises presents the Pacific Northwest as a microcosm bringing the multiple complications of indigenous and international treaties into sharp focus. . . . [T]his collection of essays offers several surprises that make this an important touchstone for consideration of indigenous legal relationships around the Pacific Rim and beyond."
-Journal of World History

"This multidisciplinary, transnational volume is a welcome addition to treaty literature in Canada and the United States.... Together these essays provide a comprehensive, thought-provoking overview of treaties in the Pacific Northwest along with fresh perspectives on their significance for indigenous-settler relations today."
-BC Studies

"The Power of Promises contextualizes and breathes new understandings into the processes, perspectives, intentionalities and implications of treaty making between the Aboriginal inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest and European settlers as they negotiated their respective spaces."
-BC History

"While the essays do a marvelous job defining power relations between tribal groups and western governments, the work is also exemplary in exploring power relations among tribes. This text should serve as a model for those who would produce books deriving from conference papers. It provides valuable comparative insights, for beginners and experts, into treaty and resource issues and histories across national, tribal (and disciplinary) borders in the Pacific Northwest."
-Oregon Historical Quarterly

"Alexandra Harmon has pulled 11 important essays together into a useful volume to be used in Native studies, political science, and American and Canadian First Nations history. This is an important book for treaty history, policy history, and transborder studies."
-Pacific Northwest Quarterly