Queering Like a State: Naturalization, Race, and Colonial Desire


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Siobhan Somerville, Associate Professor of English, Gender and Women's Studies, African American Studies; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Event Date: 
March 7, 2016
Event Time: 
3:10pm to 5:00pm
2239 Lane Hall
Event Accessibility : 
Ramp and elevator access at the E. Washington Street entrance (by the loading dock). There are accessible restrooms on the south end of Lane Hall, on each floor of the building. A gender neutral restroom is available on the first floor.

This talk traces a genealogy of a familiar state practice – the naturalization ceremony -- through an unexpected site: the Indian reservation. I explore a ritual that is not typically considered part of U.S. naturalization history, but that was carried out by federal officials in the early twentieth century to confer citizenship on American Indians under the Dawes Act.  Drawing on archival materials, I contextualize these ceremonies within the longer history of U.S. policies and practices for producing new citizens. In stark and startling terms, these materials demonstrate the federal state’s fantasy that naturalization could dramatize and install settler norms of race, sexuality, and gender among American Indians.  But, in practice, other things could happen – and often did.  Piecing together newspaper accounts and federal records, I recount the experiences of a Lakota man who participated in the citizenship ceremony in 1916, showing how the naturalization procedure was negotiated, sometimes in unanticipated ways, by those who were subjected to it.  By tracing this history, I unsettle familiar tropes that position naturalization as the culmination of immigrant desire for attachment to the state; instead, by attending to the state’s acquisitive desire, it is possible to see how naturalization has functioned historically as a key (and sometimes unpredictable) technology of U.S. colonialism.

Cosponsored by the Department of English.