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“Indians MUST Organize”: Reimagining Indigenous Modernity through the Writings of the National Council of American Indians

It is imperative to join hands, unite our forces, to save our race from dying out, by actual starvation and landlessness.

—Gertrude Bonnin (Yankton Sioux)[1]

On February 5, 1927, a delegate of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, Reverend Samuel G. Davis (Haida), wrote to the founding President of the National Council of American Indians, Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, seeking solidarity.[2] Writing on Alaska Native Brotherhood official letterhead, Davis tells about his family and then thanks Bonnin for her ongoing work on behalf of American Indian peoples. He writes, “I am very Proud of you for your work,” and expresses his commitment to “do the same thing here in Alaska.”[3] Ten days later, Bonnin, who maintained an office, and had been actively engaged in Indigenous politics in Washington, DC for over a decade, responded by sending “some literature” alongside a copy of her National Council’s Constitution and By-Laws: “I trust you will become so filled with the constructive effort to re-unite our great big American Indian family into One National movement for their own protection and preservation under the LAWS and COURTS of our land, that you will start a Local Lodge in Alaska.”[4] She then concludes, “it is imperative to join hands, unite our forces, to save our race from dying out, by actual starvation and landlessness” (Gertrude Bonnin to S. G. Davis, February 15, 1927).

By the end of March, Bonnin’s husband, Raymond T. Bonnin (Yankton Sioux), reported the result of their correspondence with Davis and the Alaska Native Brotherhood: “Strange as it may seem we have had Alaskan Indians write us for help and when they got it, they immediately started to organize and are well underway now. As soon as spring opens up they intend to get the word out among other Indians.”[5] The growing network of Indigenous American solidarity—from Alaska to DC—that this letter exchange represents exemplifies the often overlooked reality that the early twentieth century was an era of hemispheric Indigenous organizing in the face of increased federal attempts to exterminate Indigenous peoples and their rights to the lands and resources of North America.[6] By examining the collectivist writings that such organizations produced, including their constitutions, petitions, and newsletters, Indigenous modernism comes to represent much more than the accomplishments of a few exceptional Indigenous intellectuals; rather, Indigenous modernism encompasses an expansive reclamation of Indigenous relations.

Individualizing Indigenous Lands and Literatures

At the turn of the twentieth century, US Indian policies shifted from fraught treaties, forced removals, and outright war to subtler, though no less coercive, strategies for exterminating Indigenous peoples and rejecting their claims to the continent. After nearly four centuries of outright physical, as well as symbolic, slaughter had failed to completely remove Indigenous peoples from North America, the United States began to construct new policies aimed at disconnecting Indigenous peoples from the sophisticated kinship networks that govern Indigenous responsibilities and relationships with one another and with the land. On February 8, 1887, Congress enacted a new method of rapid dislocation: the Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act, which divided collectively managed reservation resources into individual plots of private property.

Prominent US figures celebrated the new approach for the act’s emphasis on individual rights and citizenship. For example, Alice Fletcher, an eminent American ethnologist and leader of the so-called Friends of the Indians, exclaimed, “The Indian may now become a free man; free from the thraldom of the tribe . . . This bill may therefore be considered as the Magna [Carta] of the Indians of our country.”[7] Later, in the 1901 State of the Union address, US President Theodore Roosevelt reiterated Fletcher with added executive force: “The General Allotment Act is a mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass. It acts directly upon the family and the individual. Under its provisions some sixty thousand Indians have already become citizens of the United States.”[8] Fletcher’s comparison of the Allotment Act to the Magna Carta disregards longstanding systems of Indigenous governance that guaranteed similar rights centuries prior to the Magna Carta.[9] Roosevelt’s metaphor of “a mighty pulverizing engine,” on the other hand, demonstrates the explicit violence of US paternalism that continues to intentionally “break up the tribal mass” by individualizing Indigenous peoples one acre and one Indian at a time. Such political maneuvering has sought to cleave Indigenous peoples from communal commitments and to enlist them into the deracinating mass of US individualism, thus causing them to disappear as distinct peoples and leaving the land open to unimpeded non-Indigenous settlement.

What happened to Indigenous lands at the turn of the twentieth century also happened to Indigenous literatures; rather than engaging the works of contemporaneous Indigenous writers and what could be described as an Indigenous aesthetic of representing the literal and literary realities of living Indigenous communities, dominant literary ideologues of American literary modernism individualized communally based expressive traditions—ceremonies, songs, dances—away from long-standing collective practices of production and into commodities to be consumed by a colonial academy and public.[10] In 1917, for example, chief editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse Harriet Monroe published an issue dedicated to what she described as “aboriginal” poetry. After featuring the work of non-Indigenous ethnographers and poets without any representation of contemporaneous Indigenous poets and the communities from which they wrote, Monroe concluded the issue with a call for increased ethnographic extraction: “Vivid as such work is in its suggestion of racial feeling and rhythm, it gives merely a hint of the deeper resources—it is a mere outcropping of the mine.”[11] Such extractive efforts—popularly known as “salvage ethnography” due to the assumption of the inevitable vanishing of Indigenous peoples—have resulted in the ongoing misrepresentation of early twentieth-century Indigenous writers as having been successfully removed from their communal commitments without adequately acknowledging the ethnographic act of removal.

This simultaneous individualization of Indigenous lands and literatures away from otherwise community-based understandings of acreage and art produced still-prevalent myths about Indigenous modernity: “modern” Indigenous peoples are largely isolated, immobile, and illiterate. Yet, early twentieth-century archives, such as the surviving documents of the National Council of American Indians, render an alternative Indigenous modernity: one of maintaining networks of Indigenous solidarity against all odds through collectivist approaches to literary and land-based activism.

Collectivist Solidarity against Modernist Isolation

Modernism’s myth of Indigenous isolation has been memorialized in current anthologies and the resulting curricular canon of early twentieth-century American literature. As a result, while editors have begun to include a growing body of Indigenous authors since the so-called Native American Renaissance (1960s–70s), there are currently a combined total of seven Indigenous authors included from 1910 to 1945 in the two foremost anthologies of American literature.[12] As the editors of the Heath Anthology explain regarding modern Indigenous authorship, “Alienation and marginality for the Native American are all too forcibly defined by a society that operates with unseen motives and purposes.”[13] Such a representation emphasizes the social attitudes and government strategies that continue to limit Indigenous impact throughout the United States, but also propagates the presumption that the US government succeeded in forever dislocating Indigenous peoples from their communities, cultures, and lands. However, this widely accepted narrative of Indigenous marginalization and dislocation often overshadows the understated reality that one of the unintended consequences of nineteenth-century relocation efforts, such as the implementation of federal Indian boarding schools, was the revitalization of a transindigenous network of Indigenous solidarity. And rather than thinking through this resurgence through the modern/anti-modern binary, or what Scott Lyons (Ojibwe/Dakota) describes within an Indigenous studies context as “the problematic aspect of a modern/traditional distinction,” that remains so prevalent in current articulations of American modernity, the transindigenous practices of cultural and intellectual exchange evidenced through the collectivist writings of the National Council of American Indians articulate a particularly Indigenous modernity; one that can be better understood in ways similar to how Lisa Brooks (Abenaki) describes early Indigenous New England, as ever-adapting “networks of kinship.”[14]

On February 27, 1926, nearly forty years into the General Allotment Act, Gertrude and her husband Raymond Bonnin gathered in Washington, DC, with delegates from twenty-one tribes to form what they hoped would become an organized hemispheric movement against the ongoing exploitation of Indigenous peoples and lands. The delegates formed the National Council of American Indians and unanimously elected Gertrude as president, with Raymond as secretary (fig. 1). Describing the purpose of the organization, Gertrude writes, “This is a great national movement. Indians MUST organize. . . . The future will prove organization is the only way Indians can hope to gain power to protect themselves legally, and for their racial preservation.”[15]

Members of the National Council of American Indians, Washington, D.C., March 9, 1926
Fig. 1. Members of the National Council of American Indians, Washington, DC, March 9, 1926. Box 15, folder 15, MSS 1704; Gertrude Bonnin and Raymond Bonnin Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

In a subsequent letter addressed to Potawatomi Chief Simon Kahquados on May 19, 1926, she explains further, “We are convinced that until the Indians organize themselves in such a way as to insure cooperation, the needs of the Indians will receive little attention from Congress.”[16] The Bonnins and other National Council delegates formalized their national movement toward community-first Indigenous solidarity through three collectivist publications: a 1926 petition to Congress, a 1926 constitution and by-laws, and a monthly periodical entitled Indian News Letter.[17] Rather than the marginality and alienation that has been read into early twentieth-century single-authored Indigenous texts—much like modernist readings of early twentieth-century Asian, East Indian, Irish, Jewish, Pasifika and other such “minority” writers—these collectivist writings, like so many produced by other contemporaneous Indigenous organizations, challenge many of the underlying myths of Indigenous modernity by documenting intricate Indigenous networks of economic, intellectual, literary, and political solidarity.

It remains unknown who authored the document or what the collective process of drafting the National Council’s constitution was. Gertrude signed and addressed the cover of the only known surviving copy, and the Bonnins’ letters discussing the constitution focus more on its purpose than on the process of its production(fig. 2). The lack of a named author starkly contrasts with other texts Gertrude wrote both for and beyond the National Council, which she individually signed almost universally as “Yours for the Indian Cause” (Hafen, “Help,” 212). The lack of an identified author also strengthens the text’s collectivist claim and commitment. Perhaps Gertrude wrote the constitution, perhaps the Bonnins wrote it together, or perhaps they wrote it in collaborative dialogue with other soon-to-be local National Council leaders and delegates throughout the country. In any case, it is clear from the Bonnins’ preserved personal records that they had developed a dialogic community of leading and lay Indigenous thinkers prior to and throughout the National Council’s twelve-year effort. Learning from the successes and shortcomings of the better-known Society of American Indians, in which Gertrude had previously worked to gather “educated” Indians throughout the United States, the National Council, instead, focused on grassroots gathering of all Indigenous peoples in solidarity to fight for the survival of Indigenous peoples and lands while paying particular attention to tribal specificity. Collectively, they built an organizational structure that encouraged hemispheric solidarity without jeopardizing nation-specific sovereignty.

Constitution and By-Laws of the National Council of American Indians
Fig. 2. Constitution and By-Laws of the National Council of American Indians (Washington, DC: National Council of American Indians, 1926). Courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

After naming the Council in Article I, the constitution’s Article II begins in bold: “The main objects of the organization are the protection and preservation of the American Indian people.[18] The article then lists the council’s eleven underlying approaches to providing effective protection and preservation:

  1. Through the practice of brotherhood among themselves . . . without distinction as to religious or political affiliations.
  2. Through opposition to any movement which may be regarded as detrimental to the American Indian race.
  3. By presenting the true history of the American Indian race . . .
  4. By promoting the study of their human and legal rights and their privileges and responsibilities as American citizens, and disseminating their true history among the Indian people and all other people.
  5. By encouraging attendance of public schools by Indians.
  6. By encouraging Indian women to participate in the activities of American citizens.
  7. By establishing a legal department for the assistance and guidance of members.
  8. By directing the energies mainly to general principles and matters of universal interest and not allow itself to be used for any personal, political, or bureaucratic advantage. . . .
  9. By studying local conditions and the possibilities of the various Indian communities throughout the United States . . .
  10. By establishing local lodges, Councils, or branches of the National Council of American Indians in all Indian communities and encouraging and promoting a more friendly relationship between the Indian tribes and bands thereof.
  11. By unifying the action of branches of the National Council of American Indians, thereby ensuring concerted action in the work of the protection, preservation, and promotion of the interests of American Indian People, at the same time encouraging local expression. (Constitution and By-Laws, 3–4, emphasis in original)

 

There is much to unpack here concerning the National Council’s contextual and conceptual approaches to supporting Indigenous American peoples. Yet, at the center of each constitutional objective is the underlying call for increased Indigenous solidarity—the opposite of isolation or ethnic marginalization—against ongoing efforts to dislocate Indigenous communities and thereby extinguish their claims to Indigenous lands.

Re-Constituting Indigenous Mobility

But the National Council was not simply a network of letters and ideas that kept communities connected. The Bonnins and other National Council delegates also physically traveled from community to community throughout the United States to strengthen the National Council’s cooperative network, and to be eyewitnesses to the concerns of local communities in order to better support and represent them in DC. Gertrude described one such journey to then-chairman of Indian Welfare, Mrs. H. A. Atwood:

Without going at length into the subject, I want to say, after our 10,600 miles trip through various Indian tribes’ reservations, I returned to Washington with a great depression. The Indian people, alas! are headed straight for the poor houses through the miscarriage of justice to them, and wasting of their resources, and funds.[19]

Recording a subsequent 1927 trip through California and Arizona, the Bonnins describe traveling 3,320 miles in sixteen days with Senator Lynn J. Frazier, chairman-to-be of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee; Rev. O. H. Bronson, pastor at 1st Presbyterian Church, Santa Barbara; Stanford University biologist Dr. Eshref Shevky and his wife; and John Collier, US Commissioner of Indian Affairs and his wife. The group visited boarding schools, Hopi villages, a Mormon trading post, and the Pima and Navajo reservations to hold local meetings of the National Council, interview current and former employees of the Indian Service, meet with superintendents and missionaries, and address school and community children. The group then traveled another 1,495 miles over the next four days.

The Bonnins write: “We were entirely lost for one night. But weather even in the low desert was cool; and we had only 1 puncture on the trip. However, we ran the last 100 m[iles] on four cylinders.”[20] After each of these solidarity tours, the National Council’s DC office became inundated with letters from those whom the Bonnins had met. Gertrude and Raymond made a concerted effort to reply to each, and in many cases, they sent along copies of the National Council’s constitution alongside other National Council and allied publications. Beyond the representational connectedness that the National Council’s constitution represents, the 15,415 miles traveled by the Bonnins during the National Council’s first two years is a testament to the mobility of Indigenous peoples, ideas, and literatures. The National Council’s impressive itinerary defies the dominant narrative of static Indians and evidences the solidarity of the hemispheric “we” that the National Council’s constitution asserts.

Significantly, the Bonnins’ travels were not an isolated itinerary of early twentieth-century Indigenous mobility. Rather, whether by force through such removal and relocation efforts as federal Indian boarding schools, or through agential military service in World War I, participation in literary, performing, political, and religious groups, enrollment at universities, as public intellectuals on speaking circuits, as contributors to national Society of American Indians gatherings, as tribal delegates, or as international ambassadors, early twentieth-century Indigenous Americans were mobilizing into a robust network of Indigenous relations. In an undated document entitled “How the National Council of American Indians Came into Being,” Gertrude further explains the purpose and potential of the National Council in a way that simultaneously emphasizes the everyday realities and results of increased Indigenous mobility:

For a great many years Indian Tribal Delegates have come to Washington, D.C. in vain attempts to procure redress for their many grievances on their scattered reservations. They met each other in hotels and held informal councils where they discussed their problems and the difficulty to secure favorable action. . . . The plan of the organization is to have the National Headquarters in Washington as a Listening Post, and Local Lodges organized in all Indian country, in the course of time, until all the tribes be reunited under the rights of citizenship.[21]

This idea of local lodges expressing their nation-specific concerns to a central listening post, thus creating a greater collective Indigenous voice for change, stands as the central image of the National Council. It is depicted atop the Council’s first official letterhead (fig. 3).

National Council of American Indians, Inc, “Campground” Letterhead, 1926–38
Fig. 3. National Council of American Indians, Inc, “Campground” Letterhead, 1926–38. MSS 1704, Gertrude Bonnin and Raymond Bonnin Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

The campground letterhead image consists of a central teepee enclosed by a circle of smaller tepees. A fire burns next to the central teepee on the left. On the right sits a circle of council members attentively listening to a speaker standing in the center. Beyond the outer circle is a luscious landscape dotted with wild game and horses. In the front, a family including young children enters the circle on horseback, symbolizing entry into what Gertrude describes as the “universal brotherhood.”[22] The letterhead illustration is filled with stereotypical images of Plains Indians and seems, at first, to suggest that a universal brotherhood of Indigenous North Americans can only be accomplished through an assimilation of tribal diversity into the singular colonial stereotype. On the other hand, beneath the stereotypical imagery is a power of solidarity—of listening, learning, and working together from within an imposed image to create a radically different vision of Indigenous modernity.

This visual rhetoric works within both non-Indigenous cultural assumptions and Indigenous cultural and political realities and can also be reread through the written rhetoric of the National Council’s constitution. Located on an open expanse of fertile land populated only by game, each of the forty-six teepees and thirty-six council members represents the desires, successes, and grievances of individual tribal nations. The opening of each teepee faces the central teepee and burning fire, illustrating a shared sense of solidarity, as well as the individual angles, perspectives, and relationships that inform and influence the center. The family with young children entering the circle from the west embody the future of Indigenous modernity against the romanticized nineteenth-century backdrop of Catlinian, Curtisan, and Fraserian images of Indigenous isolation and vanishing. Read alongside the National Council’s archive of collectivist texts and personal letters, what appears initially to be just another colonial rendering of what Poetry Magazine’s Harriet Monroe describes as “the rich mines of folk-lore still unrevealed,” instead depicts the purpose and promise of the National Council’s strategy of remobilizing longstanding networks of Indigenous solidarity (“Editorial Comment,” 251).

Just as the campground letterhead illustrates both the reconnected community and increased mobility of Indigenous modernity, Gertrude’s related description of the National Council as a central “listening post,” a term that entered English through World War I, describing a defensive position where soldiers were stationed at the frontline to monitor and warn against encroaching enemy movements, points to the reality that, despite the comparatively limited number of single-author Indigenous texts produced during and recovered from the “Modernist era,” Indigenous modernity was in fact an expansive era of multilingual Indigenous literacy being mobilized to defend against ongoing encroachments into Indigenous lands and lives.[23] In 1930, for example, future National Council member Miles (Ed) Good Shield from Parmelee, South Dakota, wrote the Bonnins with enthusiasm about joining after having read the constitution, but having heard that Pine Ridge had received an “English-Dakota” version, he made one request: “I wonder if you can revise or translate in Dakota Language all these Constitution and by-laws.” [24] With the constitutional objective of “encouraging local expression,” the National Council recognized both the necessity and possibility of engendering a network of solidarity that validated the extra-English literacies of Indigenous America that existed through networks of transindigenous cultural, intellectual, and political exchange prior to European contact, and that continued despite the cultural and physical enforcement of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English-only federal policies.

Maintaining Indigenous Relations

Building upon the solidarity, mobility, and multilingualism evidenced by the National Council’s constitution and surrounding archive, the Council’s corresponding Indian News Letter highlights the ways in which the National Council strategically worked both within and against modernist assumptions of Indigenous illiteracy.[25] As early as April 2, 1929, for example, Gertrude wrote to the Indian Defense Association in California in her capacity as both president of the National Council and editor of the Indian News Letter: “Our Indian people have no libraries or Newspapers in English simplified, touching upon their special needs peculiar to their Reservation environment. They look so eagerly for such News Letters as we can issue from time to time.”[26] In January of the following year, she issued a number of identical personal letters, with an attached copy of the Indian News Letter, seeking contributions from non-Indigenous friends and allies in New York and California. She writes, “Through our Washington headquarters, we send out this News-Letter, and we find our Indians on their scattered reservations responding to them, eager for news about their affairs as discussed in the Nation’s capitol.”[27] In each of these letters, written primarily to fundraise among potential non-Indigenous allies, Gertrude addresses the everyday barriers to Indigenous-English education while also playing into her audience’s assumption of Indigenous illiteracy to suggest that the Indian News Letter’s main purpose was to educate reservation-based Indigenous communities about pertinent contemporary issues affecting Native America.

When Gertrude describes the purpose of the Indian News Letter to her Indigenous readers, however, she emphasizes different themes, connecting the publication to the common thread of the National Council’s constitution and collective outreach to Indigenous communities throughout North America. For example, on May 28, 1930, Gertrude wrote to a Creek “Indian Kinsman,” describing the National Council’s founding objectives and attaching a copy of the constitution and petition. She then concluded by explaining the central purposes of the Indian News Letter:

Our headquarters here in Washington, D.C. is a listening post. We are here when Congress is in session and making laws. We also watch what the Bureau of Indian Affairs is doing; we send our Indian-News Letter about once a month to our Lodges. By this way, we hope to help all tribes save their lands; and have some land for their children too.[28]

In this description, Bonnin does not refer to a need to simplify laws or language, as she does to her non-Indigenous readers, who surely presumed Indigenous illiteracy. And rather than describing many American Indians as living in “scattered reservations,” as she does to her non-Indigenous correspondents, she describes them as organizing in a network of solidarity. In this way, the National Council becomes a literary outlet for promoting a network of land-based Indigenous activism articulated in a variety of Indigenous literacies, each nation mobilized in collective solidarity to support nation-specific and trans-Indigenous efforts for land-based survival and sovereignty.

In response to American modernism’s near erasure of contemporaneous Indigenous American input, Indigenous and allied scholars continue to recover, reconsider, and recontextualize individual Indigenous activists, intellectuals, and writers in crucial ways.[29] The archives of the National Council of American Indians, however, calls on readers to also remember these individuals’ collectivist contributions as well as those of the communities to which these individuals remained connected. It is, after all, in such collectivist texts—and their associated archives—as the National Council’s constitution and Indian News Letter that we can locate a revolutionarily different Indigenous modernity, one that emphasizes solidarity over isolation, mobility over stasis, and multilingualism over illiteracy. In other words, analyzing early twentieth-century collectivist Indigenous expression presents both the overwhelming struggle and resulting successes of a multiplicity of Indigenous modernities. Raymond describes the oft-overlooked results of early twentieth-century Indigenous solidarity:

We are happy to say that we have succeeded in several instances in saving the Indians millions of dollars. In this last Congress we fought hard to protect the Flathead Indians from having their waterpower site taken away from them and turned over to white men. We succeeded in killing the bill. The power site was valued at thirty million dollars. We also worked long and hard to protect the Navajo Indians with respect to oil leases. A bill was introduced in Congress which if passed would have caused thirty-seven and a half per cent of the royalties to go to the State in which the Indians lived and only sixty-two and a half per cent go to the Indians. We demanded one hundred per cent for the Indians and finally got it for them. In fact, this bill affects all Indians living on Executive-Order Indian Reservations and therefore involves over twenty-two million acres of Indian land.[30]

Describing only the first year of the National Council’s collectivist effort, Raymond offers a story of Indigenous solidarity told against the much louder canonical narrative of isolation, immobility, and illiteracy.[31] Raymond’s story focuses on the National Council of American Indians, but it can be found again and again in the collectivist writings and surrounding archives of early twentieth-century Indigenous America. Broadening our definitions of modern Indigenous authorship to also include such collectively produced texts as constitutions, petitions, and newsletters challenges the many myths that continue to define contemporary Indigenous peoples by radically redefining Indigenous modernity as an era of Indigenous activism across a continent of interconnected Indigenous communities.


Notes

[1] Gertrude Bonnin to Albert Attochnie, November 27, 1926, box 3, folder 11, MSS 1704; Gertrude Bonnin and Raymond Bonnin Collection; 20th–21st Century Western and Mormon Americana; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

[2] The Alaska Native Brotherhood was founded in 1912 to protect Alaska Native civil, land, and water rights against ongoing US-settler encroachment.

[3] S. G. Davis to Gertrude Bonnin, February 5, 1927. Box 3, Folder 14. MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[4] Gertrude Bonnin to S. G. Davis, February 15, 1927. Box 3, Folder 14. MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[5] Raymond T. Bonnin to Sam, March 30, 1927. Box 3, Folder 15. MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[6] Other early twentieth-century Indigenous organizations that participated in the reconnecting of longstanding Indigenous networks of Indigenous sovereignty include such groups as the Society of American Indians (1911–1923), the Four Mothers Society in Indian Territory (1895–1915), the continuance of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (ca. 1090–), the All Indian Pueblo Council (1922–), and the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia (1931–).

[7] Alice Fletcher, “The Crowning Act,” The Baptist Home Mission Monthly 9, no. 5 (1887): 134.

[8] Theodore Roosevelt, the annual State of the Union address, Washington, DC, December 3, 1901, printed as “The Annual Message of the President” in Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1902], ix–liv, xlvii.

[9] See the Hodinöhsö:ni’ Great Law (ca. 1090–1500) for one prominent example.

[10] As but a sample of well-known early twentieth-century Indigenous writers, see the works of John Joseph Matthews (Osage), John Milton Oskison (Cherokee), D’Arcy McNickle (Flathead-Cree-Métis), Lynn Riggs (Cherokee), Todd Downing (Choctaw), and E. Pauline Johnson (Mohawk), and the communal aesthetic their writings articulate.

[11] Harriet Monroe, “Editorial Comment: Aboriginal Poetry,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 9, no. 5 (1917): 251–256, 251. See Michael P. Taylor, “Not Primitive Enough to Be Considered Modern: Ethnographers, Editors, and the Indigenous Poets of the American Indian Magazine,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 28, no.1 (2016): 45–72.

[12] As representative Indigenous authors of the American modernist period, The Heath Anthology of American Literature (2014) includes four authors: Mourning Dove (Okanogan), John Joseph Mathews (Osage), Thomas S. Whitecloud (Chippewa), and D’Arcy McNickle. The editors of the most recent Norton Anthology of American Literature (2016) representing the same period chose to include three Indigenous American authors: Black Elk (Oglala Lakota) as mediated through John Neihardt, Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Dakota), and Zitkala-Ša (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, Yankton Sioux).

[13] The Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. D, ed. Paul Lauter (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning [2013]: 1327.

[14] Scott Richard Lyons, X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 10; Lisa Brooks, Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 201.

[15] Gertrude Bonnin to Albert Attochnie, November 27, 1926, box 3, folder 11, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[16] Gertrude Bonnin to Chief Simon Kahquados, May 19, 1926, box 3, folder 5, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[17] For a detailed analysis of the National Council’s 1926 petition to congress, see P. Jane Hafen, “‘Help Indians Help Themselves’: Gertrude Bonnin, the SAI, and the NCAI,” Studies in American Indian Literatures 25, no. 2 (2013): 199­–218.

[18] Constitution and By-Laws of the National Council of American Indians (Washington, DC: National Council of American Indians, 1926), 3.

[19] Gertrude Bonnin to H. A. Atwood, March 4, 1927, box 3, folder 15, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[20] “ITEMS and HIGHLIGHTS on California-Arizona Indian Trip Ending June 3rd,” box 1, folder 10, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[21] Gertrude Bonnin, “How the National Council of American Indians Came into Being and some of the things it is trying to do through organization,” box 1, folder 5, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

[22] Gertrude Bonnin to Hon. Charles J. Rhoads, February 28, 1931, box 6, folder 9, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[23] Thanks to the tireless archival work of Indigenous and allied “modernist” scholars, the Indigenous literary history of early twentieth-century America continues to become more complicated, diverse, and robust.

[24] Miles Good Shield to Gertrude Bonnin, March 16, 1930, box 5, folder 19, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[25] The National Council of American Indians distributed a monthly Indian News Letter from 1929 to 1938. So far, however, I have been able to track down only a few surviving issues.

[26] Gertrude Bonnin to Miss Washburn, April 2, 1929, box 5, folder 6, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[27] Gertrude Bonnin to Stansbury Hagar, January 3, 1930, box 5, folder 17, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[28] Gertrude Bonnin to Indian Kinsman, May 28, 1930, box 5, folder 21, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[29] For exemplary scholarship on Indigenous modernity, see Beth H. Piatote’s Domestic Subjects: Gender, Citizenship, and Law in Native American Literature (2013), Kiara M. Vigil’s Indigenous Intellectuals: Sovereignty, Citizenship, and the American Imagination, 1880–1930 (2015), and Kirby Brown’s Stoking the Fire: Nationhood in Cherokee Writing, 1907–1970 (2018).

[30] Raymond Bonnin to Rev. Robert Clarkson, March 31, 1927, box 3, folder 15, MSS 1704; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.

[31] By 1931, the National Council consisted of a ninety-member advisory board representing forty-eight distinct tribes. According to the constitution of the National Council of American Indians, the advisory board held the responsibility of electing the National Council of American Indians’ president, vice president, councilor general, and executive secretary-treasurer.