Authorized Agents

Publication and Diplomacy in the Era of Indian Removal

By Frank Kelderman

Subjects: Indigenous Studies, Literary Criticism, Cultural Studies, American History, Nineteenth-century Studies
Series: SUNY series, Native Traces
Hardcover : 9781438476179, 286 pages, October 2019
Paperback : 9781438476186, 286 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Indian Removal and the Projects of Native American Writing

1. "Kindness and Firmness": Negotiating Empire in the Benjamin O'Fallon Delegation

2. "Our Wants and Our Wishes": Frontier Diplomacy and Removal in Sauk Writing and Oratory

3. "The Blessings Which We Are Now Enjoying": Peter Pitchlynn and the Literature of Choctaw Nation-Building

4. Rewriting the Native Diplomat: Community and Authority in Ojibwe Letters

Afterword: The Indians in the Lobby


Examines the relation between Indian diplomacy and nineteenth-century Native American literature.


In the nineteenth century, Native American writing and oratory extended a long tradition of diplomacy between indigenous people and settler states. As the crisis of forced removal profoundly reshaped Indian country between 1820 and 1860, tribal leaders and intellectuals worked with coauthors, interpreters, and amanuenses to address the impact of American imperialism on Indian nations. These collaborative publication projects operated through institutions of Indian diplomacy, but also intervened in them to contest colonial ideas about empire, the frontier, and nationalism. In this book, Frank Kelderman traces this literary history in the heart of the continent, from the Great Lakes to the Upper Missouri River Valley. Because their writings often were edited and published by colonial institutions, many early Native American writers have long been misread, discredited, or simply ignored. Authorized Agents demonstrates why their works should not be dismissed as simply extending the discourses of government agencies or religious organizations. Through analyses of a range of texts, including oratory, newspapers, autobiographies, petitions, and government papers, Kelderman offers an interdisciplinary method for examining how Native authors claimed a place in public discourse, and how the conventions of Indian diplomacy shaped their texts.

Frank Kelderman is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Louisville.


"This project of normalizing Indigenous people's crucial place in negotiation with the US settler government is ongoing, and this is a study we need right now." — American Literary History

"Authorized Agents makes a significant contribution to critical debates in Native American and Indigenous studies regarding the relationships among Native people's agency, Indigenous sovereignty, and literary representation." — Transmotion

"…each chapter offers a critical perspective that pushes readers to think differently about how to understand and work with the writings of Native peoples in the nineteenth century." — Annals of Iowa

"Frank Kelderman finds indigenous agency in 'unexpected places,' to use Phil Deloria's term, even as he reveals the ways in which the newly formed United States' political and publication systems increasingly narrowed the routes through which indigenous people could act and speak, as authorized and authorial agents, on behalf of communal bodies. Authorized Agents suggests that the fetishization of the singular, romanticized 'Indian chief' in American literature and culture becomes so imbricated in diplomatic structures, in the era of removal, that some Native leaders' rhetoric came to reflect the masculinist, fatalist discourse of savagery and vanishing, even as those leaders were advocating for tribal sovereignty and critiquing colonialism. An unsettling, provocative analysis of diplomacy, literature, and the insidious patterns of colonial structures." — Lisa Brooks, author of Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War