My work over time illustrates my ongoing interest in the politics of everyday life and the feminist possibilities in people’s experiences. As an undergraduate, I completed a qualitative research project rooted in sociological research methods. I interviewed homeless youth and examined pseudo-familial social networks and interpersonal relationships that they developed with other youth and adults who were also homeless. As a graduate student at University of Manchester, I performed an ethnographic project of a radical cheerleading group in Washington State where I argued that the hybrid form of political protest and performance art of radical cheerleading was used by feminist progressive political activists as a way of reclaiming privatized parts of the public sphere and to intervene in political public discourse. While engaging in post-graduate coursework and research at Eastern Washington University, I conducted a qualitative research project consisting of 27 interviews of adults who were or had been engaged in polyamorous or consensually non-monogamous relationships to explore how their communicated their experiences and understandings of non-monogamy, both with romantic partners and with others. As a result of this research, I concluded that identity is both vital to queer-identified polyamorous people and is often foreclosed or failed. This analysis has been presented in the article “Tensions of Subjectivity: The Instability of Queer Polyamorous Identity and Community,” which has been revised and resubmitted at the request of editors and peer reviewers with Sexualities, one of the most prominent journals in the field of feminist and queer studies.
The Kids Who Are(n’t) There: Indigenous Youth, Child Removal, and Juvenile Detention
In the last 15-20 years, many scholars have examined and critiqued the overrepresentation of youth of color in juvenile justice systems in the United States. However, these examinations have primarily focused on Latino/a and Black youth. These projects explore the targeted juvenile legal system which addresses delinquency and vulnerability of youth and includes judges, attorneys, social workers, probation officers, detention counselors. This dissertation examines how the juvenile justice system positions Native American youth within juvenile justice frame as “youth of color.” I ask: are Native youth really youth of color? When discussing Native youth as youth of color, we lose sight of a longer trajectory of U.S. state investment in the removal of Native children from family and tribal environments. This trajectory includes the education and disciplining of Native youth as a part of the establishment of the U.S. state.
This dissertation is in conversation with critical incarceration literature, which examines the treatment of youth of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in the juvenile justice system. This literature is key to understanding how this system works and how gender and race are central to its functions. Books such as Thomas J. Bernard’s The Cycle of Juvenile Justice help us understand 200 years of history of the juvenile justice system as a hybrid system of social welfare and reprimand. Native youth, however, have a different history of state care. Native youth’s specific experiences within juvenile justice must also take into account a long history of removal of Native children through the Indian Boarding School Project and fostering and adoption outside of Native families. These projects were explicitly interested in imposition of gender roles and family norms that emphasized European understandings of a male-headed nuclear family. I argue that the juvenile justice system has come to see Native youth through the inherited lenses of the systems of compulsory education and extra-tribal fostering and adoption. By reading these literatures together, I recognize the U.S. as a site of ongoing colonization, where colonization did not end with initial European contact with Native people, but is actually an ongoing cultural and legal process that continues today. I address an intersection of these literatures and offer a way to tie together these insights to better understand both Native youth’s experiences in juvenile justice systems and how professionals within these systems treat these youth.
To do this, this project argues that justice-involved Native youth in eastern Washington State are subsumed under the category of “youth of color” and that colonial understandings of gender and kinship are imposed on these youth through three systems: compulsory Indian education from the 1880s-1930s, extra-tribal fostering and adoption, and juvenile justice. My research recognizes compulsory education, extra-tribal fostering and adoption, and juvenile justice systems as connected and ongoing productions of settler colonial policies which continue to detrimentally impact Native youth and their communities. I illustrate how the settler state, for example, justifies removal of youth by defining Native youth as in need of “taming” and of not behaving in appropriately gendered ways and presuming Native families as failures when they do not conform to the roles of family as prescribed by Euro-western understandings of family and gender. I suggest that the juvenile justice system’s current investment in the control and removal of Native youth not only recycles previous logics used by educators, social services workers, and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials invested in education and fostering/adoption, it also does so through the imposition of European gender roles, enforcement of nuclear families headed by men, and cultural assimilation.
I insist that sexism, homophobia, and racism continually frame U.S. nationalist priorities and center the ongoing and compounded effects of these hierarchies and their subsequent effects. Native youth in the past and today encounter tragic roadblocks in their attempts to develop intimate relationships not scripted through nationalist, heteropatriarchal, and individualistic priorities. Along the way, stable and healthy family and tribal relationships are often severely affected and eroded, further justifying the state’s ongoing control over youth’s lives.
My methodology integrates archival, policy, and interview sources to understand how systems of control are placed on Native youth, as well as the institutional frameworks for these systems and the attitudes and presumptions of people working within the systems. To this end, I include archival records from the National Archives at Seattle, the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane, and the archives of the Jesuits of the Oregon Province about compulsory education of Native youth between 1880 and 1935 and the case management of youth who were adopted outside of their tribes between 1958 and 1978 during the federal Indian Adoption Project. I also engage in analysis of current and previous federal, state, and county policies of education, adoption, and juvenile justice. Finally, I integrate interviews with Native youth and young adults who had contact with the juvenile justice system, Native adults who were transracially adopted, and professionals within the juvenile justice and adoption/fostering systems. I locate this research in eastern Washington State and focus on the impacts of these systems on the Spokane, Confederated Colville, and Kalispel nations. All of these materials are analyzed using discourse analysis methods from a grounded perspective, allowing the way that people explain their own experiences and the language of policies and procedures to guide the analytical framework for qualitative analysis.