Alexandra Harmon began her career advising and representing American Indian tribes in the state of Washington for sixteen years as an on-reservation attorney for the Skokomish and Suquamish tribes and as a coordinator of the Evergreen Legal Services Native American Project. Wishing to explore and write about questions that arose in her legal work, she entered the graduate history program at the University of Washington; she has taught as part of the American Indian studies program there since 1995. Harmon is the author of Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound (1998) and Rich Indians: Native People and the Problem of Wealth in American History (2010), and Reclaiming the Reservation: Histories of Indian Sovereignty Suppressed and Renewed (2019). She also edited The Power of Promises: Rethinking Indian Treaties in the Pacific Northwest (2008). A principal premise of her work is that Indians' history, while distinctive in significant ways, is integral to more aspects of American history than scholars have generally acknowledged. Her current research concerns the conditions and developments that prompted tribal governments in the 1970s to assert jurisdiction over all persons within their reservations, including non-Indians, thus raising the stakes in Indians' bid to renegotiate the terms of their relationship with the United States.
At various times and places in American history, from the first European colonial projects to the present, some Indians have possessed substantial wealth, and their unexpected affluence has provoked telling controversies. Those controversies are significant episodes in Americans' long struggle with the consequences of the nation's settler-colonial origins. In effect, they have been debates about whether Indian and non-Indian economic aims were compatible or reconcilable. Indians as well as non-Indians have addressed questions about economic morality and its relationship to Indian or non-Indian identity.