Policy contestations: Making meaning in Indigenous education in Washington State

Teresa M. Winstead
Anthropology, Indiana University
July, 2014


This dissertation consists of an ethnographic policy analysis of the legislative debates surrounding the passage of Washington State's House Bill 1495, The Tribal History and Culture Bill (2005), as well as the ongoing struggles and negotiations over the interpretation and implementation of this bill. Drawing on interviews, documents, observations, and transcripts of public testimony, the study examines the friction around the continuing control exercised by the state over the space allowed for indigenous history in public schools. Analysis of the transformation of this bill as it passed through the legislative process, coupled with an analysis of competing visions of the purpose of the bill, reveals the complexity of the intersection of state policy, indigenous sovereignty, and efforts to decolonize American Indian education. As such, this research asks: Why did this change from a mandatory policy to a policy of encouragement occur? How can contemporary anthropological literature concerned with history, power, and hegemony inform this analysis? And, finally what can careful listening to the participant voices involved in the policy development and implementation tell us about the longer-term implications of this policy? The findings of this study clearly identify the settler colonial logics informing the policy process, but the ethnographic and collaborative research presented here also raises questions about the strategies best used to address the settler colonial problems in American Indian education today. In fact, careful listening to American Indian education advocates at the school, district, and state level suggests that practice-based strategies that emphasize relationship-building between tribal and non-tribal communities may offer more potential for meaningful decolonized policy reform.