Scott A. Sandage is a cultural historian who specializes in the nineteenth-century United States and in the changing aspects of American identity. He is the author of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (2005) and an abridgement of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (2007). His current book project, "Laughing Buffalo: A Tall Tale of Race and Family on the Half-Breed Rez," focuses on mixed-blood families to show how federal Indian policy, court decisions, early anthropologists, folklore, and family traditions have shaped racial identity in the United States. Active as a public historian, he has been a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, the National Park Service, and the Andy Warhol Museum as well as to the creators of an off-Broadway play, film and radio documentaries, and the 2009 exhibition, "Lincoln in New York: A Bicentennial Celebration." In 1999–2000, he chaired a scholarly panel to recommend inscriptions for the wheelchair sculpture belatedly added to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
My father was born on the Omaha Indian Reservation fifteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided that his mother was not an Indian. Neither am I, but like many “part Indian” families with “Indian grandmother complexes” (in Vine DeLoria’s diagnosis), mine traces to an Indian woman and a fur trapper. Their progeny spent four generations on Nebraska's forgotten “Half-Breed Reserve” and on the Omaha Reservation, where the anthropologist and allotment agent Alice Fletcher finally determined that they were not Indians. This lecture tells and takes apart this complicated story, to explore how bureaucratic, legal, political, anthropological, and tribal narratives combine to shape racial identity across generations.