Identity work is needed: Laurel R. Davis-Delano, Sita Strother, Joseph P. Gone, ‘Native American identity work in settler colonial context’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 85, 2021, pp. 226-235


Abstract: In U.S. society, Native Americans face invisibility, stereotypes, discrimination, and structural barriers. In this article, we employ a symbolic interactionist approach, embedded in critical analysis, to explore how this social context impacts the conveyance and interpretation of Native American identity among people who are not Native American. Participants, 213 White American and 104 Native American people, replied to open-ended questions about Native American identity conveyance and interpretation. We employed an inductive thematic approach to analyze their written replies. The majority of Native American participants discussed their identity in the context of limited public knowledge of, and/or oppression faced by, Native Americans. For most Native American participants, this context generated strain and struggle associated with conveyance and interpretation of their identities. Despite this, some Native American participants engaged in identity work to educate others and reduce oppression. Without prompting, some White participants expressed positive attitudes toward Native Americans and their identity revelation. These positive attitudes evidence both hope for social change and problematic fetishization based on romantic stereotypes of Native Americans. We argue that society-wide change is necessary to reduce strain in, and enhance the effectiveness of, identity work by Native American people.

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