Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Sonya Atalay

Second Advisor

Jaqueline Urla

Third Advisor

Leila Kawar

Subject Categories

Indigenous Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


For Indigenous peoples, being recognized has come to mean not simply being known and acknowledged by one’s own relations but also being seen in the right way by the eye of authority. For decades, to gain access to the resources, rights, and legitimacy that state recognition confers, Indigenous political actors globally have navigated bureaucratic processes, from court proceedings to paperwork petitions. While the notion of Indigenous rights emerged at a global scale, they are specified in national jurisdictions. Indigenous people confront problems of their recognizability at all scales in their everyday lives and where they engage with state processes determining who counts as Indigenous for the purpose of the state.

This dissertation centers on an analysis of the relationship between these legal models of Indigeneity and the sociohistoric models of identity that guide readings of Indigenous people’s identities in everyday life. In order to begin to account for the multiplicity of Indigenous experience, I examine two quite different cases of Indigenous recognition: the stories of Sami people in Norway and Nipmuc people in the northeastern United States. Both these groups actively pursued forms of state recognition beginning in the 1960s. Distinct policies conveying recognition to Indigenous groups were introduced in both Norway and the US in 1970s and 1980s, seeming to create a parallel between the two histories. However, the two cases have diverged dramatically over the decades. Sami engagements with the Norwegian state translated into new laws, institutions, and even a constitutional amendment within a decade while Nipmucs spent forty years in pursuit of federal acknowledgment, ultimately without success. Contemporary ethnographic research in these two contexts reveals crucial differences in how non-Indigenous publics perceive Indigenous actors and their identities today. In this dissertation, I examine how the fixing of definitional criteria in law and policy co-exists with the ongoing circulation and transformation of the social models of identity that inform how Indigenous people are perceived in their broader lives, beyond their formal interactions with the state.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, November 13, 2022