Courtesy Ned Blackhawk
Ned Blackhawk with his children, Tobias and Eva, in Montreal on New Year’s Day.

Educator Spotlight: Yale Professor Ned Blackhawk Steps Beyond the Classroom

Tanya H. Lee

Historian Ned Blackhawk, Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, says he’s been exceedingly busy since ICTMN last checked in with him in 2012. He recently brought us up to date on what he’s been doing.

Could you give us a rundown of your major endeavors over the past 4 years?

I’ve spent much of my time since 2012 working to build Native American Studies and Native American student support here at Yale. We opened the Native American Cultural Center in 2013, a three-story facility primarily for the use of the Native American student community.

I became the faculty coordinator for the Yale Group for the Study of Native America, which is an interdisciplinary working group and we put on very active programming [of speakers and events] throughout the academic year.

We’ve built more student-orientated, but kind of more thematically structured, programming, created the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, as well as the Native American Language Project at Yale that teaches Native American languages to interested student community members here. Both of those programs have grown pretty extensively over the last 18 months or so.

I’ve also been involved in a series of institutional reviews, including the Northwestern University Provost’s Office report about the legacy of their founders’ involvement with the Sand Creek Massacre. [Report of the John Evans Study Committee, Northwestern University, Office of the Provost, 2014.]

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on a second major research project that I’m hoping to contract in the next 12 months or so. It’s kind of an overview of Native American history, but it’s not something that I’m not open to talking about given [that it’s not definite yet].

I’m also working on an anthology of academic essays about the legacies of Native informants with anthropological researchers, including the famous German ethnographer Franz Boas.

The anthology is Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the Legacy of Franz Boas [co-edited with Isaiah Lorado Wilner, Yale University Press, forthcoming]. It’s a collection of 16 research essays drawn from leading anthropologists, philosophers, and historians about the centrality of the complex relationships between anthropologists and their indigenous informants, and by extension the evolution of anthropological theory more broadly, that tries to re-center attention in these scholarly areas away from exclusively the ethnographers themselves to the social worlds around them. [It’s an attempt to] prioritize seeing Native peoples as co-participants in the creation of the ethnographic scholarly world, less as objects and more as agents of historical change. It will be volume 6 or 7 in the series that I’ve been co-editing called the Henry Roe Cloud Series on American Indians and Modernity, Yale University Press, which tries to bring attention to the importance of indigenous people in the making of modern America.

You wrote an opinion piece about Dollar General Stores v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians that was published in the New York Times and you contributed to one of the amicus briefs in that case. Could you comment on the outcome when in June the Supreme Court tied and thereby allowed the lower court ruling in favor of the tribe to stand?

With some of my colleagues I’ve been involved in a series of efforts to draw attention to the threatened state of jurisdictional authority that tribal communities have confronted over the last year and a half or so. Dollar General threatened a challenge to the tribal court jurisdiction of the Choctaw in Mississippi and by extension other tribal communities to impose civil authority over non-tribal members.

I’m delighted that the court affirmed the lower court ruling, but it didn’t issue an opinion and like my Native Indian legal scholars and activists, I’m worried about the potential continued threat to tribal sovereign authority over non-tribal members in civil cases. And like many people I’m very mindful of the inherent sovereignty of tribal communities and its continued threat in modern America, particularly in court environments where a lot of legal minds don’t often have a deep familiarity with Indian law and policy.

Blackhawk earned a Ph.D. in history at the University of Washington in 1999, a master’s in history at UCLA in 1994 and a bachelor’s degree at McGill University in 1992. His award-winning “Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West” was published by Harvard University Press in 2006. A complete list of his publications is included in his biographical statement on the Yale University website.

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Tanya H. Lee
Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
Dollar General