Indigenous struggles are hardly new to social science. Yet, the contemporary global re-emergence of Indigenous political projects offers an opportune moment for re-considering their content and consequences. Now as in the past, Native peoples have constructed innovative economic and political strategies, (trans)national social movements, and moves toward self-determination. Indigenous Peoples nevertheless confront a long-standing double-bind: their practices are seen as out-of-place (or dangerous) by the lights of political-economic orthodoxy, or ‘inauthentic’ when they engage logics and languages of market and state. These achievements and tensions raise important questions for scholars of Global Indigenous Politics and for Indigenous Peoples themselves.

This DPDF research field on Global Indigenous Politics invites work that contributes to the examination of challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples through critical consideration of relationships between Indigenous Peoples and conventional models of politics and scholarship. Several ideas unite this field. First, indigeneity is not associated with primitive, romantic, or pre-modern rural worlds; Indigenous Peoples are as modern (or post-modern) as anyone else. Second, Indigenous politics is and has always been multi-scalar, articulating the local and global. Third, Indigenous Peoples are not passive objects of research, but active agents in the making, understanding, and decolonizing of the world. Finally, the stakes of Indigenous politics are high, involving issues like resources and territory, gender and racial politics, and state and Native regimes of law, rights, and sovereignty.

These themes raise questions about the epistemologies and practices of both Indigenous politics and academic work. How do Native forms of knowledge production provide alternative strategies for narrating histories, organizing struggle, and theorizing politics? How do Indigenous Peoples organize and represent themselves in debates over citizenship, resources, and participation? How have national and international regimes of recognition affected struggles for equality, inclusion, and self-determination? How do tensions within Indigenous movements shape these dynamics? Why have these struggles yielded a variety of outcomes?

We invite applications from students working across disciplines and regions, on themes including but not limited to natural resources, extractivism and Indigenous rights; constitutional change and new forms of Indigenous political practice; sovereignty and self-determination; knowledge production and language; violence and displacement; racism and patriarchy. We welcome archival, ethnographic, quantitative, and interpretive methods. During the spring workshop, we will survey methods and paradigms drawing on anthropology, history, geography, political science, and sociology. During the fieldwork summer period, participants will craft field reports to nourish dialogue with directors and the cohort to shape the agenda of our post-research workshop in the fall.

Our goal is to bring together a set of diverse students from a range of disciplines and backgrounds who will contribute to a conversation on the multi-scalar complexities of Indigenous Peoples’ lives and politics, both historically and in the present. Students will acquire tools and skills for designing dissertation projects that are methodologically sophisticated, ethically engaged, and politically attuned to Indigenous challenges to colonial legacies and enduring inequalities.


  • Hekia E. Bodwitch

    University of California / Berkeley, Environmental Science, Policy and Management

    Re-shaping state power, re-distributing resources: Settlement of Maori claims and multinational state governance in New Zealand
    In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi revoked Maori rights and enabled British colonization of New Zealand; today, the same Treaty serves as the basis for Maori claims to rights that are re-shaping power relations in New Zealand. Through the Treaty of Waitangi settlement process, Maori are using the language of this colonizing document to identify state injustices and lay claim to territory, negotiating for redress by contesting state sovereignty. Employing Gramscian political ecology and ethnographic methodology, I examine the ways this Treaty settlement process re-shapes hegemonic relations and multinational state governance. Despite widespread acknowledgement of hegemony being a set of relations, it is unusual to actually see hegemonic relations being transformed. It is even more unusual to see these relations transformed by the very people most oppressed by the founding of a hegemonic state. Paradoxically, while the settlement process was designed to appease Maori interests in the functioning of a multinational state, it now serves as a platform to shape new Maori and non-Maori identities. Illuminating additional contradictions in hegemonic relations, increasing numbers of Maori are becoming part of the state and new wealth generated in settlements is enabling Maori to engage in capitalism, deracializing capitalism in New Zealand.
  • Claudia Chávez Argüelles

    University of Texas / Austin, Anthropology

    The Manufacturing of Truth. The Role of Legal Establishment, Grassroots Organizations and Solidarity Academics in the Case of the Massacre of Acteal
    I am planning to study how “the truth” is produced by the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) when judging indigenous people’s cases, with a special focus on the Massacre of Acteal, Chiapas (1997). The idea is to analyze the role of the SCJ in what I suggest is a new form of governmentality for indigenous populations, with two basic characteristics: the judicialization of their political demands and the erasure of their socio-cultural particularities in the name of positivism. When indigenous peoples take their cases to the courts, they narrate social process from a particular worldview, but court officials place the “facts” in a very different framework, manufacturing new versions of history, which enjoy the sanctioned character of legal facts and an appearance of neutrality. New social constructions about indigeneity are also created through the encounter between lawyers, transnational activists and indigenous peoples. My aim is to contrast the versions produced by the legal establishment with those articulated by grassroots organizations and solidarity academics, and to analyze their effects in the way in which the members of Las Abejas (the Tzotzil NGO target of the massacre) have rethought themselves and reorganized their resistance against the state and its logics.
  • Diego Cortes

    University of California / San Diego, Communications

    Development and Sustainability of Indigenous Community Radio Projects in Cauca, Colombia.
    It is well documented that Colombian mass media discriminates against and misrepresents the Colombian indigenous movement. As a reaction, the Indigenous communities in Colombia created their own media projects, which include, but are not limited to, radio, newspapers and documentaries. In the state of Cauca, one with the highest level of violence in this country, Indigenous communities, primary the Nasas and the Misaks, have established community media projects, such as the Communication Network of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (TC-ACIN), which became important vehicles not only to communicate, but also to rebuild traditions and counteract the violence perpetrated by the Colombian army, paramilitary groups and guerrillas, and the encroachment of the state and private corporations. One of the most successfully projects launched by the TC-ACIN is Radio Payu’mat. Since its foundation in 2002, Radio Payu’mat became one of the principal sources of information and very dynamic space for political debate among the Indigenous communities of this Colombian region. The success of this community media project motivated other Indigenous groups, such as the Kankuamos from the state of Cesar and Yururies from the state of Vaupes, to establish their own radio projects. I propose a study of community radio projects in Cauca, especially Radio Payu'mat, to asses their role in the consolidation of the Colombian Indigenous movement and resistance, with a special look at their historical development and long term economic sustainability.
  • Javier Crespan Hidalgo

    University of Washington, Political Science

    'Indígenas' Without Documents. Mobilization and Adaptation as Responses to the Lack of Identity Documents.
    For the indigenous peoples of Latin America, the adoption by the local states of the institutional trappings of political modernity has ultimately brought formal legal incorporation to the community of citizens. At the same time, new forms of exclusion have emerged as a result of these processes of state modernization. Among them, the lack of identity documents stands out for its far reaching consequences. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, about 15% of the residents of Latin America lack identity documents, and indigenous peoples are greatly overrepresented among those without documents. As undocumented citizens, they face restrictions in their ability to participate in formal politics, legally own property, access the financial system, join the formal economy, and enjoy public services. Despite its centrality for development practitioners, the problem of undocumentation has gone mostly unnoticed by social scientists. Yet, the multidimensional nature of the disabilities associated with undocumentation makes this phenomenon a promising lens for studying contemporary modes of exclusion of indigenous citizens, their connection to historical patterns of state development and nation building, and the challenges to them that result from both collective mobilization to demand documents and everyday actions to circumvent the restrictions associated with their lack.
  • Paula S. Dias

    Brown University, Anthropology

    Responsible Oil? Petrobras, Corporate Social Responsibility and Quilombola Mobilization in Brazil's Pre-Salt
    In recent years, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has emerged as a new, global form of development, with the oil industry as its self-declared pioneer. In Brazil, the expansion of the oil industry has increasingly affected quilombos, rural Afro-descendant populations which have recently gained ethnic rights to land through multicultural legislation. The political mobilization of quilombos often draws on and is in dialogue with discourses of indigeneity, making these groups crucial actors in contemporary indigenous politics in Latin America. How then does CSR-driven development impact quilombolas’ claims on the State for land and resources? This research project aims to provide a comparative ethnographic analysis of the negotiation between oil companies’ CSR, local civil society and quilombola mobilization in two quilombola communities involved in CSR projects by Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company. The ethnographic study of CSR provides an opportunity to understand the following questions: How do global south domestic oil companies adapt, reproduce and carry out global discourses of CSR? In what ways are other actors (civil society organizations, the State) involved in mediating negotiations between local communities and corporations in the context of CSR? How is quilombola mobilization for land and resources affected by or in dialogue with CSR discourses?
  • Marisa E. Duarte

    University of Washington, Information Studies

    Global technologies and the rise of Indigenous resistance
    A global Indigenous movement based on rootedness in the land grows beside a global market for information-processing and technological gadgets. It is an emergent resistance movement among peoples marginalized many times over by the overlapping effects of large-scale technologies such as interstate transportation systems, telecommunications, manufacturing robotics, power grids, big agribusiness, information and surveillance, and the spread of virtual capital. From the Indigenous perspective, it seems the local landscape, with all of its attendant lifeways, is threatened by a technological retexturing of the environment. Yet it is through these same technological systems that Indigenous peoples connect with each other to organize local resistance strategies. By investigating the nature of the relationship between specific global technologies and specific locations of Indigenous struggle, this study will reveal how the technosphere yields new sites of control, contestation, persistence, and protest.
  • Pankhuree Dube

    Emory University, History

    Death in the Museum: Museum Discourse, Indian Art and the Gond Modern, 1931-2001
    Gonds are among India’s historically disadvantaged indigenous (adivasis), identified as ‘Criminal Tribes’ by the colonial government and as recalcitrant to modernity by the post-colony which seized their forests and rivers for development projects. The second largest tribe in Madhya Pradesh state, their economic status is subsistence farming or landless labor. Past studies by scholars and activists have examined indigenous politics either in terms of Gonds’ Maoist insurgency or Gandhian protests against Narmada Dam. Departing from conventional statist models for indigenous leadership, my project is located at the convergence of Latin American and South Asian Subaltern Studies in under-theorized comparative studies of indigenas and adivasis. I conducted fieldwork in Fall 2010 in Bhopal city among activists, Gond artists, curators and museum archivists at Bhopal’s Tribal Research Institute. Based on our conversations, I focus my project on the figure of Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam. Shyam, activist, artist, and social movement leader, forged an artistic community in his village of Patangarh but committed suicide to protest his exploitation by a transnational museum. My research traces this new wave of museum-centered indigenous mobilization that transforms state society and redefines subaltern citizenship and intellectual leadership from the epicenter of the mobilization, Patangarh village.
  • James F. Jenkins

    University of Texas / Austin, History

    Native Refuges and Unceeded Territories: An Anishinaabe Centered History of the Great Lakes Borderlands
    This project examines how Native peoples experienced the industrialization of the Great Lakes border by looking at Walpole Island First Nation as a case study. I will trace the community-centered origins of Walpole Island’s political engagement through the twentieth century. Walpole Island sits directly on the U.S.-Canada border between the industrial manufacturing center of Detroit and the petrochemical and refining center of Sarnia, Ontario. Walpole Island community members have a rich history of demanding their own autonomy. Walpole Islanders successfully farmed much of the reserve up through the 1930s, became the first Canadian reserve to remove their Indian agent in 1965, and have since received international attention for their efforts towards environmental sustainability. In addition to examining Anishinaabe authors from Walpole Island, I will consult oral history projects and conduct my own oral history to examine two aspects of Indian life on the border: commercial fisheries and urban labor. Through transnational migration to urban centers and commercial fishing on the international border, Walpole Islanders forged an alternative narrative to that of the non-Indian industries and nation-states. This project will ask how engaging with the marketplace at the community level contributed to Walpole Island’s more recent demands for self-determination.
  • Lauren E. Sweetman

    New York University (NYU), Music

    The Politics of Healing in a Maori Cultural Unit: Implications for Global Indigenous Health
    In Aotearoa/New Zealand, Maori are overrepresented in criminal and mental health contexts, comprising 50% of institutional populations, yet only 14.6% of the nation. These inequities hold true for indigenous populations worldwide, underscoring a pressing global concern for indigenous health. New models of care are needed to address these imbalances in culturally viable, sustainable ways. In response, programs like the Mason Clinic’s Te Papakainga O Tane Whakapiripiri forensic psychiatry unit are implementing progressive rehabilitative frameworks, incorporating Maori spirituality and the cultural arts as integral aspects of treatment. Through ethnographic fieldwork in Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand, this project will identify a number of cross-cultural health programming issues, including the role of biomedicine, colonization, institutionalization, and traditional knowledge in public health governance. The Mason Clinic’s unique positioning as a trailblazing model of self-determined healthcare and its location at the intersection of body, community, and state makes it an ideal site for larger explorations in indigenous politics. This research will not only illustrate how such models can contribute to the global development of indigenous public health, but also how such self-determination performs healing on multiple physical, social, and political levels, providing a platform to address the urgent issues currently facing indigenous communities.
  • Czarina Faith Aggabao Thelen

    University of Texas / Austin, Anthropology

    Maya Self-Determination Politics: Grappling with Nation-State / Violence through Youth Theater and Cultural Restoration
    The Guatemalan state is responsible for colonial, racial, gender, epistemic, and economic violence against Mayas. Most infamously, 1980s genocide sought Maya cultural erasure to terrorize Mayas into socio-political submission. Yet, the Maya Movement’s two paradigmatic currents prominent in literature, culturalistas and populares, continue to appeal to an essentially unreformed state for recognition and relief. A third current of Maya politics (“tejido social”) looks away from the state for self-determination. For self-defense during genocide, Kaqchikel Mayas of Sololá municipality drew on their social fabric as a basis for organizing. Recognizing their distinct governance and economic systems prior to colonization, tejido social politics investigate and adapt culturally-based practices as alternatives to imposed Western sociopolitical formations. This self-determination route offers more socio-cultural integrity, but less recourse to state accountability mechanisms for halting rights violations and, consequently, risks unsustainability. However, Maya state-focused strategies have resolved few cases of violence due to rampant impunity; complicity with the source of oppression exacerbates violence and indigenous disempowerment. My research asks how proponents of tejido social grapple with this dilemma, in their political vision, everyday consciousness, and practice. My two ethnographic contexts are: youth theater group Sotz’il’s cultural-political visioning; and community politics--how political vision plays out in practice.
  • Nishita Trisal

    University of California / Santa Cruz, Anthropology

    Indebted: Tribals, "Exploiters," and Financial Inclusion in Orissa, India
    Efforts to integrate financially vulnerable rural populations into the economic mainstream proliferate in contemporary India and throughout the “developing” world. In Rayagada district of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, a region known as one of the nation’s poorest, microfinance and other financial inclusion initiatives aim to transform the indigenous Dongria Kondhs’ seemingly irrational economic impulses into fiscally productive behavior. My dissertation project investigates the complications posed to such financial rationalization efforts by the Dongria Kondhs’ continued engagement with supposedly exploitative moneylenders. Infamous for their exorbitant interest rates, moneylenders are blamed for indigenous peoples’ perpetual indebtedness, hence justifying the need to protect these communities through institutionalized economic development. Drawing upon ethnographic and archival methods, I explore relationships of debt and credit between Dongria Kondhs and moneylenders in rural Orissa, contextualizing these relations within colonial economic policies and contemporary financial inclusion efforts. In doing so, my research illuminates the Dongria Kondhs’ long-standing engagement with money, finance, and trade, and suggests that economic exchange is infused by notions of morality, reciprocity and intimacy that blur the lines between exploitation and care.
  • Christine M. Willie

    University of California / Davis, Native American Studies

    Unheard Memories and Contested Spaces: Diné Historiography and the Spanish Arrival
    Based upon of the leveling of hierarchical systems of knowledge so that Indigenous epistemologies hold the same value as Western philosophies in academic, political, and social spaces, this dissertation project offers another version of the Diné (Navajo)–Spanish contact period based upon Diné and Western literatures and historiographies. Prior to embarking on the upon the re-presentation of the Spanish arrival from Diné perspectives, as a point of departure I aim to ground the theory and praxis of the Diné philosophy Sa’ah Naagháí Bik’eh Hózhóón (the body, soul, mind, and essence to walk in beauty, balance, and harmony) with one of the seemingly contradictory aspects of the Diné culture, sheep. Specifically, I focus on the dismembering of sheep as a European influence through traditional Diné butchering and the re-membering of sheep as our “own” through weaving, ceremony, and oral histories. Furthermore, following the discourse of Indigenous scholars such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith, I defend the presentation of the colonial period as a contemporary transhistorical reality and thus, challenge colonial and postcolonial constructs as I establish contemporary Indigenous texts such as weavings, creation stories, and traditional teachings as forms of colonial literature. Upon establishing the theoretical and methodological framework, my dissertation grounds itself on Diné stories of “The Gambler” as presented through Indigenous texts that I will open to colonial literary and post colonial discourses. These histories not only provide Indigenous insight into the Spanish invasion, the arrival of sheep, and colonial periods, their inclusion as an equally valid form of historiography proposes a new concept of post-coloniality. Only when Native voices have been included within the greater American narrative and esteemed on the same level as Western voices will we have the opportunity to transgress toward post-coloniality as a possible balanced locus of enunciation.