Dancing on Common Ground

Tribal Cultures and Alliances on the Southern Plains

Howard Meredith

Choice Outstanding Title

Dance, a vital expression of community and spirituality for Native Americans, has been the traditional metaphor for resolving conflict among Southern Plains tribes.

“Meredith shares important insights into the character and values of the Southern Plains Indians towards plotting a more unified strategy for their future development.

—Western Historical Quarterly

“Meredith combines ‘traditional tribal approaches’ with solid historical research to provide a highly original and informative account of three centuries of Native American life on the Southern Plains.

—American Historical Review
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War, on the other hand, has been the metaphor for Anglo-Americans. Attacking conflicts in terms of dichotomies—us vs. them, friend vs. foe, civilized vs. savage—the European-influenced U.S. government has created battles out of almost every military, political, and social situation, from the Revolutionary War to the War on Drugs.

Here lies a fundamental cultural difference, says Howard Meredith, that has led to mistrust, poor communication, frustration, and polarization. The Anglo-American assumption that analysis and argument are universal and permanent traits, he contends, is not only erroneous, but has proven detrimental, even devastating, for Native Americans who have not customarily shared those values.

Historically, the U.S. government has tried to disintegrate tribes, alienate, assimilate, divide and conquer. And in the process, it has ignored the positive relationships the tribes had established among themselves and with their physical environment.

Although conflicts have arisen among tribes, Meredith asserts, the Southern Plains peoples have spent the vast majority of their time in mutual support of one another rather than at war. The Wichita, Caddo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Apache, Arapaho, Delaware, and others brought together by choice or adversity achieved harmonious coexistence through imagination, mythology, art, dance, commerce, and conservation.

In Dancing on Common Ground, Meredith uses tribal oral histories to describe alliances before the European infiltration and extensive archives, federal documents, and personal interviews to examine the evolution and attempted annihilation of native traditions through the past three centuries. Looking toward the future by assessing the past, he argues that the Southern Plains Indians need to re-establish self-determination, traditional practices and values, and their native languages to overcome the adverse effects of federal paternalism, strengthen tribal relations, and improve economic and social conditions for all people in the Southern Plains.

About the Author

Howard Meredith is associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha. He is author or coauthor of seven books, including Modern American Indian Tribal Government and Politics and Hasinai: A Traditional History of the Caddo Confederacy.