Valerie Lambert

Valerie Lambert has heard many of the stereotypes about American Indians. They are primitive and savage. They are stoic warriors. They all have long black hair.

Instead of shying away from the misperceptions, Lambert, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation and an award-winning UNC anthropologist, encourages her students to openly discuss and debate these caricatures. Her students address questions such as “Why do American Indians have casinos and reservations? How do Indians feel about American history? What kinds of futures do young American Indians imagine for themselves?”

The goal is to introduce students to not only American Indians’ important role in history, but also to their everyday lives, successes and challenges in contemporary society.

“Americans understand Indian experience primarily through false and offensive stereotypes. The reality is that Indians are thoroughly engaged in the modern world, are capable leaders and problem-solvers, and exist as nations with sovereignty,” says Lambert, who won the 2003 Edward Kidder Graham Award for outstanding undergraduate teaching. “Students who take my classes emerge with these understandings, as well as with the tools to participate in an informed way in public debates such as those over Indian gaming and tribal control over natural resources.”

Lambert grew up in Oklahoma City, near her tribal home, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from Harvard University. She had two stints at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. As part of that work, Lambert evaluated petitions for federal tribal recognition.

Lambert tells students many stories about her work at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“I think they really appreciate that I’ve been in the trenches, where they’re making federal Indian policy and the kinds of things that happen behind those closed doors,” Lambert says.

“And I encourage them to bring their real-world experience into the classroom,” Lambert adds. “That’s one of my goals, to get them to make personal connections with the material, with the objectives of the course, and with the skills they will take beyond that course into the real world.”

Read the full story from The College of Arts and Sciences at

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