History, Department of


Date of this Version

Summer 2009


Published in Journal of the West 48:3 (Summer 2009), pp. 12-19. Copyright © 2009 ABC-CLIO, LLC.


There are two intriguing examples of indigenous peoples moving in the opposite direction and entering the United States. Running counter to the geographic flows of the exodus narratives, Yaquis from Mexico crossed into Arizona while Chippewas and Crees from Canada entered Montana. Both starting roughly in the 1880s, they sought permanent residence, reservation lands, and federal tribal recognition from the United States. At the end of long struggles for both, their narratives stand as two unique examples of "foreign" Indians granted tribal status and reservations in the United States. Such inbound Native border crossing, the reception or rejection by borderland locals in Arizona and Montana, and the struggle to gain permanent legal residence greatly complicates the broader history of indigenous experiences in the North American borderlands. Involving opposing borders, the historical context in which so-defined "foreign" Indian peoples gained permanent reservations in the United States provides considerable material for comparative analysis. The experiences of Arizona Yaquis and Montana Chippewa- Crees reveal many important truths. First, the United States' immigration and refugee policies for borderland Indians were inconsistent or nonexistent at best, errant and mercurial at worst. Second, it is clear that local borderlands economic, cultural, and political interests strongly swayed said capricious federal policy (or lack thereof). In both cases, the far-flung edges of the American empire, small settlements burgeoning urban centers on Montana's northern plains and Arizona's southern deserts informed the central formulation of federal policy on a national level.

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