We spoke with Russell Lawson recently about his new book published by Greenwood this month, Encyclopedia of American Indian Issues Today, and asked him about approaching this subject as a scholar:
People in America face issues unique to their particular time and place. American Indians, because of their unique historical circumstances, face issues that are unique to them. There has often been a great divide of understanding between white Americans and American Indians, which I hope this encyclopedia helps to clarify, and to bridge the gap in understanding between people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
I wanted to write this book because I am a white professor who teaches at a college that has a historical mission to serve American Indians. I have learned, over my tenure of twelve years at Bacone College, of the many issues facing American Indians, and I wanted to more formally explore them by means of this encyclopedia.
What was the highlight of your research?
The highlight of researching this book has been to discover so much about the experiences and culture of American Indians. I have been engaged for over a decade in learning about American Indian culture as a professor at Bacone College in Oklahoma; researching this book has really expanded my understanding of the many the issues that I have heard American Indian faculty and students talk about at Bacone.
How did your research change your outlook on the issues facing American Indians?
Most importantly, I learned that the American people (and Canadians) as whole, and the U.S. federal government and individual state governments (and Canadian government), have implemented a host of programs to help American Indians to reverse the problems that were a consequence of the negative historical experience of colonization during previous centuries in North America. Yes, American Indians (and Canadian First Nations) were exploited in the past, but Americans and Canadians are in the twenty-first century working hard to embrace American Indians as equals.
How have people reacted to your book?
Some people, especially American Indians, are not convinced that a white American can understand American Indian issues. But I have worked hard to empathize with American Indians to understand what has been their unique historical experience.
What's next for you?
I have another book appearing at the end of this year, which examines the experiences of a French scientist who journeyed to Northern Mexico in the late 1820s, where he came to study and know the various tribes of Northern Mexico and Southern Texas. The book is Frontier Naturalist: Jean Louis Berlandier and the Exploration of Northern Mexico and Texas, published by University of New Mexico Press.
Russell M. Lawson, Ph.D., is professor of history at Bacone College, Muskogee, OK. His published works include two previous encyclopedia published by ABC-Clio, Poverty in America: An Encyclopedia (co-written with Ben Lawson) and Science in the Ancient World: An Encyclopedia. Lawson was Visiting Fulbright Research Chair in Transnational Studies at Brock University in 2010. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of New Hampshire.