Dr. Courtney Lewis

Associate Professor of Anthropology - Duke University


duke05Announcement: I am thrilled to join my new colleagues as an Associate (tenured) Professor in the Cultural Anthropology department at Duke University fall of 2022.
“Meet Our New Faculty: Associate Professor Courtney Lewis”
“Meet Courtney Lewis, Trinity’s first American Indian professor who’s changing the game”

I was previously tenured at the University of South Carolina – Columbia from 2013-2022. This position was joint between the Department of Anthropology (housed) and the Institute for Southern Studies.
During the spring semester of 2020, I was the Mellon Visiting Professor of Justice, Equality, and Community in Anthropology at Davidson College.

In 2012, I earned my PhD at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the Department of Anthropology. This followed two degrees in economics (B.A. University of Michigan, M.A. Wayne State University). I then began as the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Americas at Wesleyan University–Middletown, CT in the fall of 2012.

I am an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
CNSealMy research areas include: economic anthropology, Indigenous rights, economic justice, political economy, economic sovereignty, economic stability, public anthropology, food and agricultural sovereignty, Native Nation economic development, American Indian studies, race and entrepreneurship, and economic colonialism.

First/Ongoing project focus: Individual Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Projects in Preparation: Indigenous food and plant entrepreneurship (see “Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Chefs Series” page), including American Indian cannabis businesses

My overall work is in economic development for Native Nations in the United States and, consequently, issues of sovereignty related to—and based upon the necessity of—economic sustainability and stability. My initial research was focused on small businesses located on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina. This fieldwork took place during the height of the Great Recession and revealed that small businesses provide a crucial impact on reservation economies, especially during a time of economic crisis.
EBCISeal2This research also highlighted the historical presence of small businesses and entrepreneurs on reservations and answered the questions of how the boundaries that Native Nations work within—land, legal, representational—impact these small businesses; how these boundaries are then transformed by these businesses (e.g. impacts on issues of sovereignty); and how these transformations can truly alter the landscape of a Native Nation in both figuratively and literally.

The book based on this research is the first full-length ethnography on American Indian small businesses and was released Spring 2019 with the UNC Press Critical Indigeneities Series. Topics covered include:

  • Constructions of Indigenous entrepreneurship as contextually distinctive
  • Dividends as a form of Guaranteed Annual Income (also, Universal Basic Income)
  • Impacts of Native Nation citizenship on small businesses
  • Small business impacts on Native Nation economic sovereignty
  • Small businesses place in large one-industry dominant economies (e.g. successful gaming)
  • Tourism and the crafting of “authenticity” through individual businesses
  • American Indian specific small business challenges and how Native Nation governments are addressing them

(Amazon Link ) (UNC Press Link )

Please feel free to contact me here:


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