Shedding more spotlight on 2020’s newly-graduated thesiers: Rose Shuker-Haines ’20 ! Check out their American Studies thesis below:
Name, pronouns, major, thesis???
My name is Rose Shuker-Haines . I use she/her or they/them pronouns and I am an American studies and government major doing a thesis in American studies.
What is the title of your thesis?
I have a title, but I actually have to look at it to remember which is kind of embarrassing, but its “Definition and Denial: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Land Rights and the Practices of Settler Dispossession”.
What is your thesis topic and how did you get into it?
I’m looking at the land struggles of a tribe in eastern Massachusetts, but more specifically, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, or tribal nation, in the Cape Cod area. And in 2018, the Bureau of Indian Affairs basically released a decision saying that they no longer had rights to their reservation land. So that was primarily the focus of my thesis, looking at the legal logics used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make that decision, and then seeing how colonial and racist implications lay under those legal decisions. In March of this year, very recently while I was still working on it, the Department of the Interior made a decision to totally revoke all the land with no legal backing, which actually made much bigger news. People actually knew what my thesis was about for the first time, which was crazy. That was like a very weird last minute development and clearly a shitty thing for the federal government to do. This came out at the time of a research paper I wrote for “Colonialism and its Consequences”, which is the required Junior American studies course. I wrote it in 2018 and I think this decision had recently come out and I heard about it on the internet or whatever. I was really interested in it because when people talk about Native American law and Native American tribes in general, they’re always very focused on kind of the American Southwest or the Pacific Northwest. And I think there’s a real silence around tribes and tribal nations, indigenous people in the northeast and in New England. So I was really interested in looking at this struggle over land that was taking place 2018 in the state of Massachusetts. When I was writing it, I thought, there’s so much more that I could write about here. So I talked to my professor in that class who is J. Kehaulani Kauanui, and I was like, do you think this could work as a thesis? And she said yes. So that’s how I ended up making that into my thesis topic.
What is your favorite part of your thesis?
I think my favorite aspect of my thesis is that I was writing about something that was currently unfolding. I had no idea how currently unfolding it was going to be up to the last minute, but it made it feel really important and vital, and I was really thankful to be able to work on something like that. I also got to, over fall break, visit both Mashpee and Taunton, which is another site where this land conflict is happening. After reading all of these articles and these books and this theory to be able to actually go into the towns where this conference is taking place was really cool and powerful and gave me a whole new perspective on what I was writing about.
Did you talk to anyone cool?
The main person I interviewed was this woman, Tracy Marzelli. I basically had a friend who I was talking to about my thesis, because again, a lot of this is centered in Taunton and he’s from Taunton, which I had totally forgotten. He was like, “Oh my God, I know all about this, you’re writing this about stuff that’s going on in my town. It’s like local news.” So he actually directed me to this woman. She’s actually supports and researched for the group that was suing the tribe. It was interesting to be able to talk to her to get to know her perspective, because a lot of my thesis ended up focusing not the tribe itself, but on the projections that the state and white people project onto the tribe. It was different from what I expected. She wasn’t explicitly racist. She wasn’t anti-casino, because a lot of this has been about the prospect of the tribe getting a casino. But she’s very much like “the law is what the law is and we can’t do anything about it”. I think that comes off as a neutral argument, but actually has a lot of biases and assumptions embedded in it. So it was interesting to see that that was the perspective instead of something a little more explicitly problematic.
What word or phrase did you use the most in your thesis?
I don’t know if you know those websites where you can make word clouds of documents. So I did that, and it was really fun. The word I used most is the word “land,” which feels pretty representative of what I’m writing about and what I’m interested in.
How did you procrastinate writing your thesis?
The worst habit I got into is that whenever I had to do something wasn’t creative, like checking for typos or doing citations and stuff, I would just have YouTube videos playing in the background as I did it, which I rationalized by saying that it was keeping me focused even though it clearly wasn’t. So I watched a lot of YouTube drama videos, which are really perhaps the trashiest thing that exist, but they require, like, zero brain power.
If your thesis was a song, move, or some other art form, what would it be?
So I actually thought about this question beforehand, because I was like, “Oh my god, there’s no popular art about legal theory. I have no answers to this question.” But I think the closest thing that I can think of off the top of my head is this song by an artist called Frank Waln, which is called “Treaties.” He does this EDM stuff, but it’s an EDM song with a bunch of different news clips and stuff spliced together. There’s this one line on it that I really like from some news clip that’s stuck with me, which is basically saying that we think of treaties as Native American law, but they’re American law. That really stuck with me, the importance of understanding these issues for non native people, because ultimately, it’s what all US law is based on.
Do you have any advice for future thesis writers?
I would always recommend doing an American Studies thesis because you’re interdisciplinary. So you just have a lot more flexibility with what you can do, which is really nice. I would say, one, you should start over the summer because I didn’t, and it made it way more stressful. Two, I think if you’re someone who is really interested and excited about the idea of doing a year long research project and if you like research a lot, you should do a thesis. If you’re not excited about that, don’t do it just for the prestige, do it if there’s a topic you’re really interested in. I have one more piece of advice for thesis writers, which is that if you are writing something that is currently happening, setting up Google alerts for your topic is the most helpful thing ever, because basically anytime there was an article that used the phrase “Mashpee Wampanoag”, I’d get a little email and it was great. It was so useful.
What do you hope people take away from reading your thesis?
That is such a good question. I want people to take away that the law is not objective and that there’s no non political reading of the law. Just question whenever people use “Oh well, the law says so” as justification and think about how that’s not a neutral thing to say.
Today, May 7, there is a decision being made on the Department of Interior taking away the reservation. So this is like definitely ongoing and I would say go to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal website. There are ways that you can support and there are petitions and social media blasts and stuff. I want to just plug that and stand in solidarity with the tribe.
What color will the cover of your hard-copy thesis be?
I’ve always seen them as black, so I was kind of assuming that was the default, but now that I know there’s other options. I’m thinking about it. Maybe I’ll do like green. I don’t know. I don’t even remember what the selection of colors was. I need to look into that. It would be fun to have pastels. It is true that the physical copy of my thesis is the one thing I will have to prove that I actually graduated from college.