The Great Power of Small Nations
Indigenous Diplomacy in the Gulf SouthUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Early American Studies
In The Great Power of Small Nations, Elizabeth N. Ellis (Peoria) tells the stories of the many smaller Native American nations that shaped the development of the Gulf South. Based on extensive archival research and oral histories, Ellis’s narrative chronicles how diverse Indigenous peoples—including Biloxis, Choctaws, Chitimachas, Chickasaws, Houmas, Mobilians, and Tunicas—influenced and often challenged the growth of colonial Louisiana. The book centers on questions of Native nation-building and international diplomacy, and it argues that Native American migration and practices of offering refuge to migrants in crisis enabled Native nations to survive the violence of colonization.
Indeed, these practices also made them powerful. When European settlers began to arrive in Indigenous homelands at the turn of the eighteenth century, these small nations, or petites nations as the French called them, pulled colonists into their political and social systems, thereby steering the development of early Louisiana. In some cases, the same practices that helped Native peoples withstand colonization in the eighteenth century, including frequent migration, living alongside foreign nations, and welcoming outsiders into their lands, have made it difficult for their contemporary descendants to achieve federal acknowledgment and full rights as Native American peoples.
The Great Power of Small Nations tackles questions of Native power past and present and provides a fresh examination of the formidable and resilient Native nations who helped shape the modern Gulf South.
"With remarkable alacrity, Ellis extends the transformation of early American history currently underway and examines the adaptations, incorporations, and skillful diplomatic efforts of Louisiana’s petites nations, or small nations, who comprised the majority of French Louisiana. Painstaking in its reconstruction of 18th-century village life, The Great Power of Small Nations identifies how numerous migratory and refugee communities from eastern North America sought refuge within Mississippi Valley societies, thereby redefining the nature of Indigenous affairs across the sprawling French empire—North America’s largest colony until 1763."—Publishers Weekly
"The Great Power of Small Nations is an exemplary work of ethnohistory. It features meticulous multilingual documentary research, informed by anthropology and archaeology. By balancing summaries of broader historical trends with more narrowly focused case studies and vignettes, Ellis writes in a way that, despite the book’s multitude of Native subjects and temporal and geographical breadth, enables the reader never to lose sight of its major themes...[Ellis] has demonstrated that writing about the Petites Nations is possible and that their stories are worth telling."—H-Early America
"The Great Power of Small Nations is an exhaustively researched, carefully analyzed, and compelling narrative about the petites nations of the Lower Mississippi River Valley that makes sense of an infinitely complex geopolitical landscape over the long sweep of history and, importantly, into the contemporary moment. Elizabeth N. Ellis grounds her book in the very best methodologies of social history and Indigenous studies in centering Indigenous lives to understand not just the intricacies of the seventeenth century but also how Indigenous strategies translated into their survival as nations into the present."—Jean M. O’Brien, University of Minnesota
"With ambitious research and vigorous argument, The Great Power of Small Nations brings fresh and innovative examination to the Indigenous peoples of the Lower Mississippi Valley. Elizabeth N. Ellis shows how these communities applied their traditional pattern of forming multinational settlements and maintaining local autonomy to their diplomacy and commerce with European empires. Equally significant is Ellis’s attentiveness to why such knowledge of early political formations and networks matters to descendant communities in North America to the present day."—Daniel H. Usner, Jr., Vanderbilt University
"Path-breaking. The Great Power of Small Nations offers new perspectives on war, colonialism, and Indigenous nation-building. To understand the Gulf South and the empires that sought to claim it, Ellis demonstrates, we must understand America’s deep and ongoing Native history."—Christina Snyder, Pennsylvania State University
- Winner of the Summerlee Book Prize - Nonfiction Category, granted by the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast at Lamar University
- Winner of the Best First Book in Native American and Indigenous Studies Prize, granted by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association
- Honorable mention for the Frederick Jackson Turner Award, granted by the Organization of American Historians