People / Faculty

Core Faculty

Thomas Biolsi


Comparative Ethnic Studies, Native American Studies

Governmentality, Indian Law & Policy, Race-Making

PhD, Anthropology, Columbia University, 1987
BA, Anthropology, Hofstra University, 1975



More Info:

ZOOM OFFICE HOURS, Fall 2020:     Tu 5-6:00 pm, Th 11-12:00 noon

(I recommend scheduling a time during my office hours by email prior to entering the Zoom “waiting room”)

Bio & Research Interests

I received my PhD in Anthropology, and most of my research has been conducted on Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, home of the Sicangu Lakota or Rosebud Sioux. I have just completed a book titled Power and Progress on the Prairie:  Governing People on Rosebud Reservation (University of Minnesota Press, Spring, 2018)  The book examines how the federal government exercised power over the people, land, and resources of “the Rosebud Country” (Rosebud Reservation and surrounding territory). The case studies include the settlement of land by non-Indian homesteaders, projects to “civilize” Indians (or at least make them “self-supporting”) and “modernize” farmers, New Deal programs to make both Indian and non-Indian people “self-governing” in new ways, and to create new political subjects who would see their interests in the “long term” and in terms of “the public good.” Also included is a chapter on Cold War strategic nuclear plans to draw Soviet fire away from “developed” and “populated” areas by siting Minuteman Missiles (which became primary Soviet targets) in western South Dakota. Finally the book examines a case of conflict between federal Indian and treaty law and the expectations that developed from it, and voting rights under the Voting Rights Act–a conflict which left local people (both Indian and white) saddled with arrangements designed in Washington.

I have three works in progress.  “A Tale of Two Pipelines:  Water, Oil and Native Sovereignty on Rosebud Rervation” is a study of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Mni Wiconi rural water system, and the Tribe’s resistance to TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline.  The article reads the politics of piplines in Lakota country in terms of a long history of struggle to control the boundaries and integrity of Native land.  “Anthropology and the More-than-Human Colonial Encounter:  Popular Culture on Rosebud Reservation” is an analysis of radio and mail order catalogs among Lakota people from the 1930s through the 1970s.  My argument here is that while we need to take seriously the intentions and schemes of those who authorized themselves to “civilize” Native peoples (BIA personnel, missionaries), we cannot afford to neglect other forms of shaping Native subjects.  Mass media–movies, newspapers, magazines, radio, and mail order catalogs–all had at least as much to do with birthing modern subjectivities among Native people as did the formal plans to improve (Tania Murray Li) them.  Finally, “When the Farmers Union was Anti-Capitalist and Christian” is a study of two leaders of the South Dakota Farmers Union in the 1920s and 1930s, who advocated a moral vision of cooperation and concern that was as opposed to capitalism as it was committed to Christ-like love.


Courses Taught

Ethnic Studies 203:  Social Structures (enrollment limited to Ethnic Studies PhD students) (Fall, 2020)

Native American Studies 102:  Critical Native American Legal and Policy Studies (Fall, 2020)  If you want to “shop” this class by dropping in before you register, please email me at

Ethnic Studies/Native American Studies 73AC:  Indigenous Peoples in Global Inequality (Spring, 2021)  If you want to “shop” this class by dropping in before you register, please email me at



Deadliest enemies
Indians and anthropologists
Organizing the lakota
Book cover Power and Progress in the Countryside

Select publications

2019  “Racism, Popular Culture and the Everyday on Rosebud Reservation.”  NAIS 6(1):77-110.

2018  Power and Progress on the Prairie:  Governing People on Rosebud Reservation.  Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press.  Excerpt:

2017  “Settler Colonialism and the Treaty Imaginary.”  Red Ink 19(1):173-178.

2015  “Indigenous Self-Determination and Territory in the United States.”  Border Crossing June, 18:16-18.

2014 “New Deal Visions v. Local Political Culture: The Agony of the South Dakota State Planning Board, 1934-1939.  In The Plains Political Tradition:  Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, Vol. 2, ed. by Jon K. Lauck, John E. Miller, and Donald C. Sims., Jr.  Pierre, South Dakota Historical Society Press, 77-102.

2010 “Even if they Have their Own States…: The Immiseration of Indigenous Peoples in the US.” Journal of Contemporary Thought Winter:69-89.

2007/2001 Deadliest Enemies: Law and Race Relations on and off Rosebud Reservation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

2005 “Imagined Geographies: Sovereignty, Indigenous Space, and American Indian Struggle.” American Ethnologist 32(2):239-59.

2004 “Race Technologies.” In Companion to the Anthropology of Politics, edited by David Nugent and Joan Vincent. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 400-17.

2004 “Political and Legal Status (‘Lower 48’ States).” In Companion to the Anthropology of American Indians, edited by Thomas Biolsi. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 231-47.

2002 (with Rose Cordier, Marvine Douville Two Eagle, and Melinda Weil) “Welfare Reform on Rosebud Reservation: Challenges for Tribal Policy.” Wicazo Sa Review 17(1):131-58.

1997 (Edited with Larry W. Zimmerman) Indians and Anthropologists: Vine Deloria, Jr., and the Critique of Anthropology. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

1995 “The Birth of the Reservation: Making the Modern Individual among the Lakota.” American Ethnologist 22(1):28-53.

1995 “Bringing the Law Back In: Legal Rights and the Regulation of Indian-White Relations on Rosebud Reservation.” Current Anthropology 36(4):543-71.

1992 Organizing the Lakota: The Political Economy of the New Deal on Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Awards & Honors

Visiting Fellow, Research Institute for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, Stanford University, 2003-4