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Running the maze: Opportunities and obstacles in the social construction of American Indian ethnic identity

Carol L Langer, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Using ethnographic interviews of 35 men and women who were raised non-Indian but claim Indian ancestry, this study investigates the opportunities and obstacles encountered by these individuals in the reclamation of their American Indian ethnic identity. The study first examines the discovery stories of these individuals in relation to further consideration of whether or not to pursue their American Indian ethnic identity. ^ Specific obstacles to this process include time, cost, lack of information and documentation, and lack of social ties to Native Americans. Using social constructionism, the process of identity alternation was analyzed. Consistent with this perspective, these obstacles were overcome by those individuals who had plausibility structures in place that allowed them to crystallize their new identity. The greatest single indicator of pursuit of Native American ethnic identity reclamation is a social tie to a Native elder or to a Native community. Macro social issues, such as a favorable political climate to call oneself Indian, were found to impact this process. ^ There was no evidence of ethnic fraud for either personal or financial gain. These individuals did not claim an identity for which they did not have the necessary documentation. When they spoke of their Native ancestor, those with little information and documentation tended to choose from existing stereotypes, such as the princess or chief identities. This process was found to be consistent with social constructionism. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, Theory and Methods|Sociology, General|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Langer, Carol L, "Running the maze: Opportunities and obstacles in the social construction of American Indian ethnic identity" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967386.