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The Work of Sovereignty

Tribal Labor Relations and Self-Determination at the Navajo Nation

David Kamper

Who is shaping the future of economic development in Indian Country? Who has a say in tribal economic growth and who benefits? What role do American Indian workers play in shaping how tribal economies and enterprises work? What would it mean to conceive of indigenous self-determination from the vantage point of work and workers? The Work of Sovereignty addresses these vital questions. It explores the political, economic, and cultural forces that structure and influence indigenous economic development, giving special attention to the perspectives and priorities of the indigenous working people who build tribal futures with their everyday labor. Kamper argues for the importance of recognizing tribal labor relations as a factor in indigenous economic enterprises from gaming to health care and beyond. Although most research on tribal sovereignty and economic development focuses on legal theory and governmental operations, The Work of Sovereignty centers on the people who make sovereignty work. It presents a thoughtful, in-depth look at the ways labor relations play out in Indian Country, how tribal employees view their relationships with their bosses and tribal enterprises, and how this view connects to their enactment of indigenous self-determination.

2010. 272 pp., notes, references, index, 7 x 10

Contributors: David Kamper

Download an excerpt.

“In examining Navajo workers’ engagement with unions, Kamper discovers pragmatic strategies for pressuring tribal institutions seen as unresponsive to workers and local communities. Emphasizing that workers have constructed their own understandings of self-determination, Kamper demonstrates how local workplace struggles have informed the grounds upon which tribal politics, and Indian engagement with the broader American political economy, takes place.”
—Andrew Needham, Western Historical Quarterly

“This book’s goal is to view indigenous self-determination from the vantage point of work and workers … Kamper takes an on-the-ground approach to labor relations by summarizing a case study .. the author presents a discussion of sovereignty and self-determination … that is probably new to most readers.”
—Richard Clemmer, University of Denver, Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 67, 2011


  1. Introduction
  2. The Legal, Political, and Social Contexts
  3. Tribal Structuring of Labor Relations
  4. Navajo Nation Politics and Pragmatic Unionism
  5. The Campaign for Union Recognition
  6. Grassroots Expressions of Tribal Labor Relations

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.