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Associate Professor

Email: vlambert(@)

Phone: 919-933-8910

Fax: (919) 962-1613

Office: 413B Alumni Bldg.

Personal/Areas of Interest:

I was reared in Oklahoma and am an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. I am also of documented Chickasaw ancestry.

My areas of interest are: American Indians and other Indigenous peoples; bureaucracy and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; the federal trust responsibility to Indian tribes; federal-tribal relations in the United States; land, water, and other natural resources; tribal sovereignty; tribal nation building and tribal governance.

Ph.D. Harvard University, Social Anthropology

A.B. Smith College, Department of Sociology and Anthropology


My new book, Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is forthcoming (estimated in the Fall 2022) from the University of Minnesota Press in the Indigenous Americas series, a series edited by Robert Warrior (Osage Nation). An ethnographic study of one of the oldest federal agencies in the United States, this book is based on sixteen months of full-time work I conducted at the BIA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, together with many months of additional research I carried out at the BIA’s regional and reservation-level agencies.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs was hatched in the U.S. Department of War to subjugate and eliminate American Indians. Yet beginning in the 1970s, American Indians and Alaska Natives took over and now run the agency. Today more than 95 percent of the employees of the BIA are themselves Indigenous, and the BIA, together with the Indian Health Service, is the largest employer of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States.

In Native Agency, I argue that, instead of fulfilling settler-colonial goals, the Indians in the BIA have been leveraging federal power to fight settler colonialism, battle white supremacy, and serve the interests of our people. Although the missteps and occasional blunders of the Indians in the BIA have at times damaged the federal-Indian relationship and fueled the ire of our people, and although the BIA is massively underfunded, when American Indians and Alaska Natives began running the agency, they reformulated the meanings of concepts that lay at the heart of the agency—concepts such as tribal sovereignty, treaties, the trust responsibility, and Indian land. At the same time, they pursued actions to strengthen and bolster tribes, to foster healing, to fight the many injustices Indians face, and to restore the Indian land base.

This book aims to provide a national-level look at an intriguing and impactful form of Indigenous resistance. It describes, in great detail, the continuing assaults made on Native peoples and tribal sovereignty in the United States during the twenty-first century, and it sketches the visions of the future that Indians at the BIA and in Indian Country have been crafting for themselves.

Native Agency is my second book. My first book, Choctaw Nation: A Story of American Indian Resurgence (University of Nebraska Press 2007), is a story of tribal nation building in the modern era. It is the winner of the North American Indian Prose Award and was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. In this book, I treat nation-building projects as nothing new to the Choctaws, who have responded to a number of hard-hitting assaults on Choctaw sovereignty and nationhood by rebuilding our tribal nation. Drawing on field research, interviews, and archival sources, I explore the struggles and triumphs of our Tribe in building a new government and launching an ambitious program of economic development in the late-twentieth century, achieving a partial restoration of our former glory as a significant political and economic presence in what is now the United States.

Additional Professional Experience and Background

The most significant way I have engaged with Native communities beyond scholarly documentation and exploration of Native lives is through my work in 2014−15 for the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations as an expert in the legal case The Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation v. the U.S. Department of the Interior. This collaborative work with my Tribe and our sister Tribe has been among the most satisfying work of my career. The case was resolved in a settlement with the U.S. government, announced on October 6, 2015, that involved a payment to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations of $186 million. This is the fifth largest tribal trust settlement in U.S. history.

My other professional experiences include:

– Two-term president, Association of Indigenous Anthropologists (2nd term 2018−21; 1st term 2010−12).
– President, Choctaw Nation Tribal Chapter, American Indian Science and Engineering Society (2019−2022).
– Research and/or project experience in and/or with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine, the Navajo Nation, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe.
– Comparative field research in southern Africa on indigenous rights, political mobilization, and land claims among the Nama and Khoi San Tribes.
– Post-baccalaureate field research in Taiwan, R.O.C. among one of the country’s several Indigenous populations.

I am a recipient of UNC’s Edward Kidder Graham Teaching Award.
The classes I teach regularly are:
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 102)
Indian Country Today (ANTH 62 – First Year Seminar)
Approaches to American Indian Studies (ANTH 203)
American Indian Societies (ANTH 206)
Native Writers (ANTH 406) – Graduate students are welcome in this course

Selected Publications

Forthcoming 2022. Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. University of Minnesota Press.

2021b. Michael Lambert, Elisa Sobo, and Valerie Lambert. “Rethinking Land Acknowledgments: How Do We Transform Land Acknowledgments from Conscience-clearing Rites into Meaningful Calls to Action?” Anthropology News, December 2021.

2021a. Elisa Sobo, Michael Lambert, and Valerie Lambert. “Land Acknowledgments Meant to Honor Indigenous People Too Often Do the Opposite – Erasing American Indians and Sanitizing History Instead.” The Conversation, October 7, 2021.

2017b.  “Rethinking American Indian and Non-Indian Relations in the US: Perspectives from Indian Country and from Inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs.” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 40(2): 278−94.

2017a.  “Negotiating American Indian Inclusion: Sovereignty, Same-Sex Marriage, and Sexual Minorities in Indian Country.” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 41(2): 1−21.

  1. “The Big Black Box of Indian Country: The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal-Indian Relationship.” American Indian Quarterly 40(4): 333−63.
  2. 2015. In the Matter of Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation v. Department of Interior, et al., Case No. CIV-05-1524-W, In the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Expert Opinions of Valerie Lambert, Ph.D.Single-authored report for the Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation c/o Whitten:, Oklahoma City, OK; Nix, Patterson and Roach, LLP, Austin, TX; Bullock Law Firm, PLLC, Tulsa, OK; and Indian and Environmental Law Group, PLLC, Tulsa & Ada, OK.  Submitted for Chickasaw Nation and Choctaw Nation v. Department of Interior, et al., a case that ended with a settlement, announced on October 6, 2015, to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations by the U.S. government of $186,000,000.
  3. Valerie Lambert and Michael Lambert. “Teach Our Children Well: On Addressing Negative Stereotypes in Schools.” American Indian Quarterly 38(4): 534−40.

2007a.  Choctaw Nation: A Story of American Indian Resurgence. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Winner of the 2006 North American Indian Prose Award and Oklahoma Book Award Finalist.

2007b. “Choctaw Tribal Sovereignty at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century.” In Indigenous Experience Today, eds. Starn, Orin and Marisol de la Cadena, 151−70. Oxford: Berg Press.

2007c. “Political Protest, Conflict and Tribal Nationalism: The Oklahoma Choctaws and the Termination Crisis of 1959 – 1970.” American Indian Quarterly 31(2): 283−309.

2001a.  “Choctaws in Oklahoma: Government.”  In Choctaw Language and Culture, eds. Haag, Marcia and Henry Willis, 300−05. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

2001b. “Contemporary Ritual Life.”  In Choctaw Language and Culture, eds. Haag, Marcia and Henry Willis, 317−21. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

  1. “Native Spiritual Traditions and the Tribal State: The Oklahoma Choctaws in the Late Twentieth Century.”  In Niezen, Ronald.  Spirit Wars: Native North American Religions in the Age of Nation-Building, 156−60. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Valerie Lambert CV