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Being Authentically American Indian: Symbolic Identity Construction and Social Structure among Urban New Indians


Symbolic Interaction

Published online on


This study investigates the individual and group level reconstruction of a racial‐ethnic identity. Specifically, we investigate the experience of “new Indians,” or people who did not previously identify as American Indian, but are now reclaiming this racial‐ethnic heritage. Because many new Indians lack both official (tribal and/or federal) recognition of their Indian status and the phenotypic traits associated with Indians in popular culture, their authenticity as American Indians is often questioned in interactions with others. We document how new Indians work to reconstruct the symbolic meaning of authentic Indianness by emphasizing specific values and actions rather than biological lineage. Moreover, we demonstrate how new Indians achieve interactional validation of their redefined Indian identities in the context of a proximate social structure.