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Categorization in Motion: Duwamish Identity, 1792-1934


This study uses narrative analysis to examine how racial, ethnic, and national schemas were mobilized by social actors to categorize Duwamish identity from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. In so doing, it evaluates how the classificatory schemas of non-indigenous actors, particularly the state, resembled or diverged from Duwamish self-understandings and the relationship between these classificatory schemes and the configuration of political power in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. The earliest classificatory schema applied to the Duwamish consisted of a racial category “Indian” attached to an ethno-national category of “tribe,” which was honed during the treaty period. After the “Indian wars” of 1855-56, this ethno-national orientation was supplanted by a highly racialized schema aimed at the political exclusion of “Indians”. By the twentieth century, however, formalized racialized exclusion was replaced by a racialized ethno-national schema by which tribal membership was defined using a racial logic of blood purity. In each case, the application of a particular classificatory schema corresponded to attempts by non-indigenous actors to consolidate their political domination of the Duwamish. These classificatory schemas, however, were resisted by Duwamish actors, whose self-identification was based more on attachment to territory than blood kinship. This research contributes to the sociological literature on racial, ethnic, and national categorization by showing 1) how classificatory schemas applied to Native Americans remain in motion even when the racial and ethnic categories are attached, 2) the relationship between classification and relations of domination and resistance, and 3) the limits of the state in imposing social categories on social actors.

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