This excellent book continues a recent burst of quality publications that link the histories, archaeologies and ethnographies of indigenous North Americans – predominantly in the west and south west of the continental United States. All of these works take as their starting point that they are discussing histories of societies that have survived the cataclysm of colonization and are actively engaged in renewing themselves in postcolonial United States of America. Significantly pretty much the same kinds of stories, really hidden histories, have been surfacing among the surviving indigenous societies all over the world, but especially in Australia and Canada.
Eiselt’s story is about the Jicarilla Apache, who originated as part of the great Athapaskan migration south from Canada into the Great Plains and their eventual transformation (as citizens of the United States of America) into agriculturalists. The Jicarilla seem to have thrived at the margins of Plains, Pueblo and Hispanic societies, always distinctive, always with a strongly held sense of the importance of community.
Eiselt has produced a history that encompasses much of this ambiguity, continuity and richness. But what makes this study highly relevant to archaeologists, working with archaeological records of other peoples in other places and times, is her detailed discussion of the archaeological implications of ethnic enslavement – which she defines as ‘concrete social entities that may be viewed through ideology, social organization, economy and material culture’ (p. 256). This is especially relevant, she argues, within the context of societies that must adapt to expanding state systems (such as in colonization) and where indigenous and non-indigenous populations mix. Becoming White Clay is a potentially powerful argument that ‘enclavement is a major factor in the persistence of nomadic and immigrant communities and should be considered alongside ethnogenesis, hybridity and creolization in archaeological and historical narratives of American Indian survival’ (p. 256).
I venture that it has a broader application than this.