For most non-native Americans, the Red Power Movement of the 1960s and 70s appeared out of nowhere. Convinced of triumphalist myths of the disappearing (or disappeared) Indian, white America relegated native communities to the margins of society. Then, “like a hurricane” (in the words of Robert Warrior and Paul Chaat Smith), the take-over of Alcatraz Island in 1969, the seizure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972, and finally the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee–a dramatic series of events which placed First Nations at the heart of the era’s great social upheavals.
But does this snapshot tell the whole story? In his fascinating new book Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Native Activism (University of Oklahoma Press, 2011), Bradley Shreve finds the roots of American Indian activism in the nascent inter-tribal organizing of the early 20th century and the various attempts at fashioning independent organizations of dedicated native youth over the following decades. In the process, Shreve demonstrates how the militant actions of the 1960s and 70s “followed in the footsteps of an earlier generation.” He writes, “Indeed, movements for social change do not emerge in a vacuum. They are built upon precedent, they incorporate and borrow ideas from the past, and they may find inspiration from contemporaries.” This is a story of the past informing the present, of movements building on tradition, and the dramatic arrival of an era of self-determination.