Statistics, erasure, citizenship: Desi Small-Rodriguez, Remaking Collective Identities: Statistical Statecraft, Indigenous Erasure, and Tribal Citizenship, PhD dissertation, University of Arizona, 2020


Abstract: In the social sciences, the identification of a population of interest is central to any research, policy, or program. Defining, counting, and classifying populations, however, are not objective. Rather, they are catalyzed by boundary making processes that are deeply embedded in social and political structures. In the United States (US), population classification and enumeration have long served the aims of American statecraft while disenfranchising certain populations. Racial and ethnic minorities, for example, share historical legacies of statecraft determining whose bodies are counted, whose views are official, and which knowledge corpora are privileged. As US demographics shift toward a majority minority population, there is growing need to understand the nature of boundary change, particularly with regard to intraracial heterogeneity and the intersection of citizenship and race. I use the case of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) to examine how the race-making and nation-making instruments of statecraft control the boundaries of indigeneity and threaten the sustainability of tribal populations. The AIAN case provides broad insight into how the American settler colonial ideology of erasure is reproduced in population statistics and how it can be challenged by marginalized populations who are rapidly becoming the majority in the US. I situate this inquiry within several bodies of literature, including the sociology of race and ethnicity, social stratification, state formation, and critical demography. While prior research on these topics has rarely examined the AIAN population, AIANs are an unusually rich case for analysis due to their concurrent straddling of race, ethnicity, and nationality boundaries. By centering tribal sovereignty, I demonstrate how the ongoing colonial realities of Native nations reflect the dialectical relationship between statecraft and AIAN population statistics. Drawing on an original database of tribal citizenship criteria, US Census data, and a tribal case study, I explore two central research questions. First, how have the data practices of colonial statecraft been utilized to construct and control Indigenous Peoples in the US? Second, how are Native nations reclaiming some measure of control over these data practices to reconstruct their group boundaries? I answer these research questions in three empirical studies that explore the nuances of tribal enumeration and classification. In the first study, I delve into the US Census as the official statistics context to explore how the federal government’s data collection efforts both challenge and support the sovereignty of Native nations. I find the intersection of census self-identification and tribal sovereignty problematic with implications for the utility of official US data on tribal populations. In the second study, I examine the racialization of tribal identity in a cross-national context by analyzing variation in tribal citizenship criteria. Using original data from more than 80 percent of Native nations in the contiguous US, I find that tribal blood quantum persists as a durable boundary of colonial control. In the third study, I focus on the nation state context by partnering with a Native nation to evaluate the extent to which blood quantum policy and demographic realities threaten the sustainability of tribal populations. This final study advances the case for more research in tribal demography to support Indigenous futures. As a whole, this dissertation reveals that the data practices of settler statecraft retain a strong hold on the collective boundaries of AIAN identity and that Native nations have various degrees of control over these boundaries depending on the context. I posit that the colonial imperative of Indigenous erasure is antithetical to the sustainability of tribal peoples and tribal sovereignty. Ultimately, to prevent erasure, Native nations must reclaim their boundaries of belonging.

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