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). 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.
In the early 1970s, many American Indians came to believe that their tribal governments could and should govern everyone within their reservations. When the tribes did assert jurisdiction over non-Indians, they significantly raised the stakes in the long-running negotiation of Indians' relationship to the United States. The Indians' belief in their broad governing powers and their determination to act accordingly arose from specific local histories of threats to their reserved resources, but the fate of their bids for jurisdiction depended on lawyers' and judges' interpretation of a very different history.