Trials of Belonging: Indigenous Peoples' Struggle with Law and Power in Twentieth-century North America

Kevin Thomas Guay, University of Texas at El Paso


Spanning multiple fields of scholarly inquiry, the bulk of this study concerns itself with competing notions of sovereignty, citizenship, boundary-making, and belonging in twentieth and twenty-first century Indigenous North America. Situated at the productive confluence of Borderlands history, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Critical Legal Studies, and Immigration history, this dissertation analyzes the numerous treaties, codes, edicts, bylaws and other expressions of settler colonial jurisprudence that penetrated the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples across North America. These statutes—designed to limit Native power, dissolve Indigenous cultural identity, and strip tribal peoples of their landholdings and personhood—constituted an ongoing settler colonial project across the United States and Canada. The interdisciplinary approach adopted in this dissertation highlights four specific case studies of Indigenous Peoples encountering—and in most cases resisting—legal regimes that sought to dismantle their rights of free movement across traditional homelands, self-governance, and equal engagement with modernity. Yet paradoxically, the same twentieth-century legal system that enacted such coercive legislation also provided an opportunity for lasting and positive change in Native communities across North America.

Subject Area

Law|American history|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Guay, Kevin Thomas, "Trials of Belonging: Indigenous Peoples' Struggle with Law and Power in Twentieth-century North America" (2020). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI27995204.