Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

October 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


The ten essays in Native Americans and Wage Labor provide an excellent source for information regarding the participation of Native Americans in labor markets in the United States from colonial times to the present. The editors' introductory essay reviews the literature showing that wage labor by Native Americans is not a recent phenomenon. It was crucial to the survival of some Native groups when other means of sustenance were removed. At particular times and places, Native labor was also crucial to settlers who needed to harvest crops, construct railroads, or build mines. Many of these examples are furnished by essays in the book, starting with Harold Prins's documentation of the role of Mi'kmaq Indians in providing seasonal labor for the Maine potato harvest prior to mechanization. James McClurken describes how the taking of land and property by settlers forced Indians in Michigan to join the labor market. Alice Littlefield's study of the graduates of the Mt. Pleasant Indian School in Michigan shows how the school attempted to and succeeded in recruiting Indians to the non-Indian world of work. In an effort to complement the view that the taking of Indian land contributed to the wealth of the expanding settlers, John Moore provides estimates of the surplus value appropriated from Cheyennes who sold buffalo robes or moccasins and worked as seasonal farm laborers.