Indian Country

Encyclopedia Article


Tony Hillerman's use of the term Indian country throughout his Navajo detective series is suggestive more of a concept and a state of mind than a specific territorial reference, a romanticized evocation of the high desert and red mesa landscapes that fill the Four Corners regions of the Southwestern U.S. Hillerman's usage of the term, however, also shares a resonance with the 19th-century use of the term, which was originally a somewhat pejorative reference to the always-receding lands west of the expanding U.S. frontier. Indian Country was wild, unsettled, and ripe for the taking, once the indigenous populations had been subdued and removed. Although Hillerman was an advocate for rather than an enemy of the peoples whose cultures he sketched into his novels, it's telling that one of his most used resources was an American Automobile Association map entitled "Indian Country," a detailed map of the roads and routes on the Navajo Reservation.

Today Indian Country is defined by law as land that is part of an Indian reservation, and in some cases federal trust land, which is officially owned by the U.S. government but is legally entrusted to a tribe. In the context of Tony Hillerman’s work, the term “Indian Country” refers to the territory of the Navajo Nation, which is the largest reservation in the U.S., and which spreads over northeastern Arizona, northwestern New Mexico, and small portions of southern Utah and Colorado.

Photo Credit: 

"Navajo Nation Map, September 25, 2010" by Seb az86556 is licensed under CC BY-SA.

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