Thesis on self-presentation of racial context

Question: How do the Malheur (the CCF) and Standing Rock occupations fit into the historical context of land rights in the US and how do their interactions with that history determine modern outcomes?

My thesis in the RBA is that the groups took opposite approaches to presenting race in their rhetoric. CCF actively avoided mentioning race and took extra steps to evade extremely relevant racial histories and dynamics. In Standing Rock, race, particularly history and identity, are central to the movements rhetoric, justification, and demands.

To present this, I begin with a history of land in the US with a focus on the two parcels of land in question in these movements. In Oregon, this land was originally inhabited by the Wadatika (Paiute), who were cordoned onto smaller reservations during homesteading. Land unclaimed by whites became federal land. In North Dakota, I present the history of the US military defeat of the  Sioux and partitioning of the Great Sioux Reservation. That reservation was subsequently chipped away at, leaving five separate modern reservations with a fraction of the original land under tribal ownership.

To look at each group’s interactions with racial narratives, I present their primary source rhetoric and examine how that translated into mainstream media representation. The CCF begins their history with federal seizure after homesteading, not with the displacement of the Wadatika, and use this incomplete history to claim that the federal government illegitimately took the land from “the people” as represented by state and local governments. I argue that the people they illegitimately took it from were the Wadatika and that the “people’s ownership” is more direct under federal management than under local control. I also examine their interaction with white supremacist groups and rhetoric and with Latter-Day Saints religious tradition.

In Standing Rock, I present primary rhetoric and reported narratives and discuss how activists portray the past, spirituality, and their hopes for the future. I look at the representation of what is a strong presence of a non-Christian religion in news reporting and at courtroom precedent and legal standing of sovereign Native nations. There are a lot of primary source interviews with activists and statements from the tribe that make great sources, especially when presented in parallel with legal-ese filings and proceedings.

In the end, I discuss on-the-ground consequences of the groups’ actions and rhetoric, and place the interactions between law enforcement and the activists groups within the history of their movements and the history of public land-focused activism. I hope that my paper will leave readers with questions on the intersection between racial dynamics and law enforcement as well as an appreciation for public land policy and the significance of history in modern activist movements.


One thought on “Thesis on self-presentation of racial context”

  1. Very thorough coverage of the sources you intend to use. One thing that I would caution is that you seem to be taking on this issue in a large variety of contexts, e.g., race, law, history, and religion. Each of these lenses can be incorporated into your research question and are definitely related to each other, but make those connections clear in your paper. The “block” comparison/contrast format that you’ve outlined here is a good idea for organizing the paper into distinct sections. The last point I have would just be about background – there’s a lot of background information on both of the events you intend to cover, and it’ll be essential that you give concise and complete synopses of them that make it clear why you chose them to address this research question of modern land rights issues.


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