As one of the few American Indian anthropologists who has conducted research on Indigenous communities on several continents, my research into the lives of tribal people is comparative. I have conducted ethnographic research on independence movements in tribal communities on the islands of Mindanao and Jolo in the South Philippines among militant groups. Because of the violence in the region, there are almost no detailed studies of the resistance to state power in these predominantly Muslim communities. My research showed how local dynamics between settlers from Christian communities from the Northern Philippines with the support of the Philippine Military brought about the tensions in the region over the last few decades. This was a crucial counter-narrative to the view that violence in the region was the result of an increasing Islamicist ideology. I have combined this background with my perspective as an Indigenous person to produce publications that provide a comparative perspective on how Indigenous communities contest their position within settler states. In further work, I have placed American Indian in the context of other Indigenous groups by comparing the relatively static political power of American Indian tribes with the much less stable but more dynamic power of tribal communities in Southeast Asia. I have also conducted research and have published on the economic and health benefits and obstacles of tribal members for American Indians in the U.S.
As well as my work within the academy, I have been an applied social scientist, public intellectual and administrator. My fieldwork in the South Philippines addressed the nature of violence in a region that was the site of a civil war and had experienced an insurgency for approximately 30 years. Working in conjunction with provincial governments, private corporations and NGOs, I interviewed current and former Muslim insurgents in Mindanao and Sulu. This was the first research of its kind to do so. The results showed that historical and local issues were the centerpiece to the insurgents will to fight and opportunities to leave the war were exercised when a path with potential employment presented itself. The U.S. Institute for Peace, State Department, Council on Foreign Relations and the Pentagon used this research in peace talks and to prevent expanding the war on terror into the Philippines.
I have also had an impact outside the academy as a consultant and administrator for NGOs. In the Indonesian province of West Papua, I worked with seven tribes to provide technical and sociological support in running medical, education, economic and cultural programs with a combined budget of over 5,000,000 USD. These programs included two hospitals, multiple clinics, dormitories, schools and development programs. During my dissertation fieldwork, I was a consultant with the Department of Agricultural Research and wrote sections of a successful UNESCO World Heritage Site application to preserve agricultural and religious systems in Bali. Within my own tribe, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, I have written and directed a documentary, created internship programs with the University of Maryland and worked for the cultural heritage unit.
While writing for an academic audience, I also creatively engaged public audiences. I have published in national newspapers and international literary and cultural analysis websites as well as have been quoted in popular science books and public magazines. My contributions to the sustainable seafood industry have led me to give talks at professional schools for culinary arts and environmental film festivals. A seafood dish for which I was co-credited as creating, was served at the Obama White House as part of the Champions of Change Awards.