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Book on birth of Bureau of Indian Affairs earns award from ASU Library

Author Valerie Lambert to deliver Labriola Center National Book Award lecture


Portrait of Valerie Lambert

Valerie Lambert, author of “Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs” and the recipient of the Labriola Center National Book Award.

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November 14, 2023

The Labriola National American Indian Data Center at the ASU Library has announced that “Native Agency: Indians in the Bureau of Indian Affairs” by Valerie Lambert is the recipient of the center’s National Book Award.

The annual award recognizes scholarship in American Indian and Indigenous studies. 

The book award will be celebrated with a talk by Lambert on Monday, Nov. 20, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in room 204 on the second level of Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus. The event will also be live-streamed on Zoom. Registration is open and the event is open to the public

“‘Native Agency’ is a captivating book into the birth of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ mission of eradicating and assimilating Native American populations and the transitional operations for the BIA to be managed by Indigenous peoples,” said Vina Begay, assistant librarian with the Labriola Center. “It is a real-tale empowerment account towards hope and healing for Indigenous communities through an Indigenous perspective.” 

Published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2022, the book explores the complicated history of the BIA, the oldest federal agency in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Founded in 1824 within the U.S. Department of War, the BIA was initially used as a means to subdue and eliminate American Indians. In recent decades, a transformation started to occur as American Indians and Alaska Natives joined the agency.

Lambert herself worked at the BIA and provides an inside perspective of the impact that Indigenous peoples have working within a sprawling and confusing federal bureaucracy. In addition to outlining the agency’s history, her book shares a vision for how the BIA can support tribal sovereignty and Indigenous resistance. 

“Lambert's personal experiences as a BIA employee navigates readers into the transitional phases of an Indigenous-led management team (and) into restructuring and reversing the BIA’s past catastrophic mission towards positive changes for Tribal communities through restorative justice,” Begay said. 

Photo of Department of the Interior building with U.S. and DOI flags atop pole. Title and author in blue sky above.

Lambert is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina. She was raised in Oklahoma and is an enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College and a PhD from Harvard University in social anthropology. 

“Native Agency,” as well as thousands of other titles by Indigenous and Native American authors are available in the Labriola Center locations at Hayden Library on the Tempe campus and Fletcher Library on the West Valley campus. The renowned collection comprises contemporary books written by Indigenous scholars, authors, artists, poets and others.

“American Indian Studies programs talk about decolonization within Western institutions, and ‘Native Agency’ provides true accounts of what that actually looks like,” Begay said. “This book demonstrates and proclaims what that decolonial and restorative justice work looks like when colonial or Western institutions give Indigenous people those spaces to lead and make decisions for the betterment of our Indigenous communities.” 

Founded in 2008, the Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award is a national competition with book submissions from numerous academic presses. 

“‘Native Agency’ is a great addition and fits within Labriola’s mission in providing Indigenous scholarly works and voices; additionally, it is supplementary to Labriola’s own decolonial work in libraries and archives,” Begay said. 

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