By Paul R. McKenzie-Jones
University of Oklahoma Press (2015)
Review by Rose Stremlau
Paul R. McKenzie-Jones’ study of Clyde Warrior transcends the genre of biography to provide an intellectual history of the beginning of the Red Power movement. In a prologue, seven chapters, and an epilogue, McKenzie-Jones explains how Warrior came to his beliefs about American Indian rights and how his ideas shaped Indian activism for decades. Researched in the documentary record and through extensive interviews with Warrior’s loved ones, the book is an attempt to restore an important visionary to his rightful place while not ignoring his failures.
McKenzie-Jones begins by situating Warrior, born in 1939, into his Ponca community in Oklahoma. Concisely summarizing Ponca history and culture, the author describes how Warrior’s grandparents raised him to be secure in his identity as a Ponca person and clear in his obligations to his people. These enriching relationships contrasted with the racism of many White Oklahomans and the paternalism of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Warrior’s respect for tribal elders, Ponca people trying to reinvigorate components of their culture undermined by assimilationist policies, and fellow dancers and singers from other Indigenous nations that he met on the powwow circuit, provided the foundation for his belief in the right of American Indian people to thrive as distinct communities in modern America. McKenzie-Jones states that for Warrior, “The past contained the most pertinent tools for protecting culture, community, and tradition while building a foundation for the future. His commitment to the old ways formed the basis of his vision of Red Power as an ideology and a movement.” Warrior’s experiences working in student organizations, pan-Indian groups, and academic and political bureaucracies convinced him that verbal militancy and direct action were the means to this end.
Warrior fought with tribal leaders, government officials, and members of his own community who questioned the efficacy of radicalism, but none doubted the integrity of his vision. He initiated new ways of thinking, particularly about the concept of selfdetermination and the potential of tribal education. In the mid- 1960s, Warrior “was convinced that Indian students would only benefit from the education system when cultural identity was accepted, recognized, and incorporated into the curriculum.” When he died in 1968, he left a devastated family and friends, but also an intellectual framework that continues to inspire positive change for Indian peoples today.
At just under 200 pages and with two dozen pictures throughout, this is an extremely teachable book to advanced high school and undergraduate students. By providing explanations of important Ponca and broader influences on Warrior, McKenzie-Jones has written a book that is intelligible to those unfamiliar with the 1960s. He also so respectfully humanizes Warrior that this book may have its greatest readership among the rising generation of young Indigenous leaders. What a fitting tribute to a brilliant young man whose legacy is as significant as his life was short.
Rose Stremlau, Ph.D., is an associate professor of history and American Indian studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.