Associate Professor

Email: vlambert(@)

Phone: (919) 843-7808

Fax: (919) 962-1613

Office: 413B Alumni Bldg.

Area of Interest:
American Indians; tribal sovereignty; tribal nation building and tribal governance; federal-tribal relations; bureaucracy and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; land, water, and other natural resources; American Indian veterans.

Ph.D. Harvard University, Social Anthropology, 1999

Research & Activities:
I was reared in Oklahoma and am an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.  My 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, and is the winner of the 2006 North American Indian Prose 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, oral histories, 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 20th century, achieving a partial restoration of our former glory as a significant political and economic presence in what is now the United States.

I am currently working on my second book. This book critically explores the federal-tribal and federal-Indian relationship, a core political relationship for American Indians in the U.S. By carefully examining and analyzing in each chapter a different dimension or aspect of this relationship, I work to theorize, reconceptualize, and challenge prevailing anthropological and scholarly constructions of this core relationship. I argue that the federal-tribal and federal-Indian relationship are productively and accurately addressed as a relationship that is complex, multiple, contradictory, nuanced, and flexible. In so doing, I seek to complicate standard scholarly representations of this relationship as binary, oppositional, and unidimensional. I revolve my descriptions and analyses around the following question: given the history of dispossession, disrespect, and betrayal of American Indians by the federal government, in what ways have American Indians negotiated and struggled to come to terms with this symbolically powerful relationship?

Several of the chapters of my second book project revolve around descriptions and analyses of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), an agency at which I conducted sixteen months of participant-observation field research while working in a BIA position, Cultural Anthropologist, in the BIA – Central Office’s Division of Tribal Government Services. A related chapter critically examines the Cobell v. Salazar case, a case in which the BIA was found to have extensively and systematically mismanaged tribal and individual-Indian financial accounts, land, and other resources. My field research at the BIA occurred prior to the settlement of this case for $3.4 billion in 2010. The settlement included a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund and $1.5 billion in direct payments to class members.

The remaining chapters build upon and broaden the scope of the text to address the U.S. tribal land-claims cases of the early-21st century, including a case on which I worked, The Chickasaw Nation and the Choctaw Nation v. the U.S. Department of the Interior (see below); American Indian participation in the armed forces; and American Indian elected and appointed leaders in non-Indian American politics.

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 the most satisfying work of my career. Among other things, it resulted 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 dollars. This is the fifth largest tribal trust settlement in U.S. history.

Additional Professional Experience and Background

  • Two-term president, Association of Indigenous Anthropologists. (First term began in 2008; second term, in 2017).
  • Cultural Anthropologist at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (Washington, D.C.) during both the Ada Deer and Kevin Gover administrations
  • Research and/or project experience in and/or with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine, the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe
  • Comparative field research (in 2004) 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
  • High school exchange student to China

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 102)
American Indian Societies: Current Issues (ANTH 89 – First Year Seminar)
American Indian Societies (ANTH 206)
Native Writers (ANTH 406)
In 2003, I won an Edward Kidder Graham Award (for undergraduate teaching)

Native Writers (ANTH 406)
Ethnographies of Contemporary American Indian Societies (ANTH 327/328)
Power, Politics and Personhood (ANTH 327/328)

Selected Publications

2017a.  “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.

2017b.  “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): 333-363.
  2. 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. “Teach Our Children Well: On Addressing Negative Stereotypes in Schools.” With Michael Lambert. 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, 151-170.  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, 317-321.  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