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Card-Carrying Indian: The Social Construction of an American Indian Legal Identity

Robertson, Dwanna Lynn
This research focuses on the concept of an American Indian Legal Identity. Its primary purpose is to develop an understanding of the complexity of the construction and application of an American Indian Legal Identity and to add richness and rigor through the authenticity of the voice of the American Indian concerning this phenomenon. To accomplish this requires an interdisciplinary framework that articulates legislative dynamics, historical context, racial hegemony, and frames through which these were (and are) interpreted. Furthermore, the use of a qualitative methods approach, consisting of semi-structured, in-depth interviews of thirty Oklahoma Native American participants, representing thirteen distinct tribal citizenships, and twenty-two multi-tribal affiliations, allowed for rich, detailed descriptions within the context of possessing or lacking an American Indian Legal Identity. Participants frame an American Indian Legal Identity as identification for services and benefits, a function of maintaining tribal sovereignty, a mechanism for federal government control, proof of Indianness, and a symbol of cultural belonging. Participants interpret the impact of American Indian Legal Identity through the competing frames of the social constructs of racial, ethnic, and legal identity. American Indians must meet particular criteria to qualify for authentic Indianness, which creates and reifies a hierarchy of Indianness.