Fax: (919) 962-1613
Office: 413B Alumni Bldg.
Area of Interest:
American Indians and other Indigenous peoples; federal-tribal relations in the United States; bureaucracy and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs; the federal trust responsibility to Indian tribes; land, water, and other natural resources; tribal sovereignty; tribal nation building and tribal governance.
Ph.D. Harvard University, Social Anthropology, 1999
Research & Activities:
I was reared in Oklahoma and am an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation. 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, 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, 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.
My second book is recently completed. American Indians at Work: An Ethnography of the BIA and the Struggle to Fulfill the Trust Responsibility is an ethnography of the state, specifically the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). It is based upon sixteen months of participant-observation field research that I conducted while employed as an American Indian and a cultural anthropologist at this federal bureaucracy. This ethnography explores the ways American Indians run and manage the BIA, a federal agency with great symbolic as well as actual power. By chronicling life and work inside the 10,000-employee BIA only two generations after Indians assumed control of the agency, then became more than 95 percent of its workforce, I describe and analyze the ways these Indian bureaucrats struggle to come to terms with the agency’s stomach-turning history and forge a new trajectory for the twenty-first century. Many of the Indian bureaucrats I portray seek a massive overhaul and reconfiguration of federal-Indian relations, hoping to replace longstanding relations of paternalism and animosity with relations of mutual respect and partnership. The stories told in my manuscript are stories of these bureaucrats’ heartfelt efforts to improve conditions on Indian reservations, strengthen tribal governments, avert crises that threaten the continued existence of tribes as sovereign nations, and survive the betrayals that come from within and without. These and other stories told in my ethnography bring to life a number of talented and well-meaning but also occasionally misguided and flawed individuals. Fueling their actions are fierce and noble convictions to create a better future for their people.
The BIA is known for being a veritable fortress, virtually impenetrable to outsiders. It creates and maintains myriad secrets, many of which are carefully guarded. My ethnography takes readers inside this institution that has long been a proverbial black box. My ability to secure a position at the BIA was made possible by the fact that, in addition to possessing certain qualifications, I am an Indian eligible for Indian preference in employment at the BIA. As an enrolled citizen of a federally-recognized tribe, I am a member of the category of people over whom the BIA exercises its “protective” authority and to whom it administers cradle-to-grave, also known as womb-to-tomb, services. The Indian perspective presented in my book has been shaped by my personal experiences growing up in Oklahoma with knowledge and awareness of BIA abuses.
The BIA, together with the Indian Health Service, is the largest employer of American Indians in the United States, and its impact on American Indians is profound. Yet according to historian Cathleen Cahill, author of the brilliant Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933, scholars “know next to nothing about whom the Indian Service [now the BIA] employed in its bureaucracy” since the 1930s (2011: 258). My book uses anthropological approaches and methods to build upon the work of Cahill and others. American Indians at Work is the first ethnography of the BIA,
and it explores what I see as the most fascinating era of this enigmatic bureaucracy, the era of Indian control of the institution from the late 1970s to the present.
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 2018-20; 1st term 2010-12).
· President, Choctaw Nation Tribal Chapter, American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
· 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.
In 2003, I won an 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), American Indian Societies (ANTH 206), and Native Writers (ANTH 406). Graduate students are welcome to enroll in ANTH 406.
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.
2016. “The Big Black Box of Indian Country: The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal-Indian Relationship.” American Indian Quarterly 40(4): 333-63.
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.
2014. “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, 151-70. 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.
2000. “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.