Date of Award

Summer 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology/Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Mona J. E. Danner

Committee Member

Vanessa R. Panfil

Committee Member

Kimberly J. Cook


Indigenous women experience some of the highest rates of violence and negative health outcomes of any racial/ethnic group yet are largely ignored in social science research. This dissertation explores the lived realities of Indigenous women who are members of federally unrecognized nations and how their tribal membership impacts their experiences with a variety of criminal justice and social issues. Unrecognized nations do not have access to potential benefits, opportunities, and legitimacy that comes with federal recognition thereby creating an additional intersection to consider for some Indigenous women. Essentially, federal recognition policies seek to place further constraints on Indigenous identity, while attempting to eliminate unrecognized nations from the U.S. population; the absence of recognition is therefore a form of social death that exacerbates many negative aspects of the Indigenous experience. This research explores the question: What are the lived realities of Indigenous women who are members of federally unrecognized nations, explicitly, their experiences with criminal victimization, the criminal legal system, homelessness, unemployment, racism, and other structural criminogenic conditions? To explore this research question, I used Tribal Critical Race Theory as the theoretical framework. In-depth semi-structured interviews center the stories of women who are members of federally unrecognized nations to understand the impact of the absence of federal recognition. As Indigenous women, they are more likely to experience violence in various forms, making it important that we consider all barriers they encounter to justice, including federal recognition.

Using this framework and historical context, three themes emerged from 21 interviews with members of federally unrecognized nations: postcolonial distress, social death, and survivance and resilience. Postcolonial distress is a concept that refers to Indigenous people’s experiences of awareness of previous, historical events that were harmful to their ancestors and community, as well as exposure to current events and policies that are harmful. Narrators’ experiences with causes of postcolonial distress include experiences with familial conflicts, suicide, interpersonal violence, disproportionate contact with the criminal legal system, substance addiction, and sexual violence and sexual harassment. Social death refers to the experience of lacking legal rights to live as a citizen with self-determination. Persons in this category are exposed to systematic violence, degradation/humiliation, and natal alienation. Narrators described experiences with social death via systematic violence, humiliation, and natal alienation via religious and cultural erasure, bureaucratic erasure, and the delegitimization of their Indigenous identity. The theme of survivance refers to Indigenous people and their active presence in society, in spite of policies that seek to eliminate and harm Indigenous people and communities. Highlighting these stories are important for reminding society that Indigenous people do still exist. These experiences of survivance and resilience include their individual achievements and those of their relatives, their striving for and ability to maintain community, and their expression of religion and spirituality. The final chapter discusses positionality, policy implications, and directions for future research.







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