American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 7-15-2020


This thesis examines the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) tribal social services programs in New Mexico Native reservation communities. I rely on interviews with current/former BIA social workers and administrators to contextualize my analysis, while revealing the limits of existing social work scholarship and offering recommendations for future scholarship and community work. Using critical Indigenous studies and feminisms along with critical social work, I advance two primary arguments. The first is, despite the so-called self-determination era, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) functions as a settler colonial administration that diminishes tribal sovereignty and perpetuates racist and gendered violence. The capacity for tribes to contract through the Indian Self Determination and Educational Assistance Act (ISDEAA) of 1975 is not the promise of self-determination, but the maintenance of white possessive logics and white normativity in the name of Indian welfare and rehabilitation. Secondly, rather than reforming BIA tribal programs, it is necessary for each tribal community to reestablish their cultural social networks and programs that are guided by their Indigenous justice systems and traditional practices of healing and kinship. By privileging and prioritizing, Indigenous justice systems, traditional practices of healing and kinship within tribal programs and communities, tribes can materialize the newest iteration of self-determination outside of American jurisprudence and white normativity discourses. Moreover, they can directly refuse settler colonial administrative domination over our most valuable community members, our Indigenous children.




settler colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, tribal social work, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), self-determination, Public Law 93-636 (ISDEAA)

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alyosha Goldstein

Second Committee Member

Jennifer Nez Denetdale

Third Committee Member

David Correia