Dr. Stokes answers some of his most frequently
asked questions.



About DaShanne Stokes' Memoir, Recomposition

About Dr. DaShanne Stokes

About Dr. Stokes' Work

About the Eagle Feather Law

Other Questions


Tell us about your memoir, Recomposition. What's it about?

Recomposition tells the true story of how my mother and I struggled to survive the exploits of my step-father--a man who taught us about unity and responsibility through Kwanzaa, yet turned into a drug-abusing adulterer and stalker. As I grew into a man, I learned that embracing my Native American heritage would come at a cost, setting me on a path to uncover a guilty family secret that would change my life forever. An unflinching story of love, laughs, and magic in the midst of death and disaster, Recomposition is a meditation on change--and discovering how what makes us who we are is not what we think.

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When did you begin writing your memoir, and when did you finish?

My memoir began not as a book, but rather as a series of personal essays I began writing around 2003. Somewhere along the way, around early 2004 or so, before I entered grad school, they grew into what would become my memoir. I completed the first draft in late 2011, and the final draft in early 2015.

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Are you black or part-black?

No. I have what many consider to be an African American sounding name, and I grew up celebrating Kwanzaa and had an African American father figure for most of my life, but I'm not African American. I understand the interest and confusion many people have when they hear my name and when they see me, but I would much rather people get to know "who" I am, rather than focusing on "what" I am.

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What's it like for you having an African-American sounding name?

It never ceases to amaze me the kind of reactions I get. Most of the time people stumble trying to pronounce my name, or they give me weird looks. Sometimes their faces turn red and they look away or they laugh nervously and confess that, from my name, they were expecting me to be a woman, an African American, or an African American woman. Often times people will ask me if I'm black or part-black and if so, how much. Typically there's more positive interest in my name when I'm talking to an African American. Some African Americans say things like, "Hey, your name is like mine!" and we might smile at each other and talk for a bit. It's indescribable, too, how people react to those I know when they have to introduce me. Sometimes people don't know how to introduce me, or they feel like they have to explain that I'm not black because they get lots of questions from others about whether or not I'm black. It's understandable, of course, but explanations about what I am or am not really aren't necessary, and they detract us from much more important things.

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I've seen lots of misspellings of your name. What is the correct spelling of your name?

There are a lot of misspellings of my name, such as Deshane, Deshanne, Dashane, DeShanne, Da Shanne, De Shane, and Dwayne, but the correct spelling is DaShanne. The D and S are capitalized, there are two a's, two n's, and no space between the first a and the s.

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How do you pronounce your name?

My first name is pronounced Duh-Shane. It has two syllables, and it is all one name. There are no pauses between the two syllables, and there are no spaces between any of the letters. Note that this is just like the name Shane, except that it has a quick and soft d in front of it, not a long or hard d like when you say the letter d (which is pronounced dee or 'dē). A dictionary pronunciation guide would look something like this: d'shān.

My last name, "Stokes," rhymes with "pokes."

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Have you ever experienced discrimination?

Yes. While I have undoubtedly experienced white privilege due to my physical appearance, I have also experienced discrimination for being Native American. For example, when I was in grade school kids would taunt me and call me names. I've been called "half-breed" and "chief." As I mention in Recomposition, I've gotten the "tomahawk chop" and people putting their fingers over their mouths chanting "woo woo woo!" I've also faced being brought up on drug charges and was almost thrown out of two college dorms, twice at Boston University and twice at the University of South Dakota, for smudging. I've also lost job opportunities for being a Native American man with long hair. When I've gone in for job interviews I've been told they couldn't hire me because of my hair. I've tried explaining to them that I'm Native American and it's pretty common for Native American men to have long hair because it's part of our culture, but they told me it was against their "company policy." People sometimes treat me differently when they learn that I'm Native American or when they see me wearing things connected to my culture, but I may also have experienced misplaced discrimination because of my name. There are studies, for example, that show that if you have an African American sounding name that you're much less likely to get callbacks for job interviews, even when those hiring claim to be equal opportunity employers. But it's not all from whites. There's a lot of people in the Native community who are friendly, accepting, and open-minded, but there are of course some who haven't liked the way I look. Sometimes when I'm among whites they think I'm "too Indian" and sometimes when I'm around other Native Americans they can't get past how I look, whether or not I'm enrolled, or what they think my bloodline is or isn't. I'm also confident that I have gotten less interest in my memoir because of my ethnic background and identity. Just like with research showing people get dramatically fewer callbacks for job interviews for having information on their resumes suggesting that they are a person of color, other writers have noted that changing their names to appear "more white" has resulted in getting more interest from book agents. On the whole, my experiences of being discriminated against, by some whites, Native people, and others, is very much reflective of our society's larger struggles with how we label and categorize people. My experiences are also reflective of a society trying to free itself from a living legacy of institutionalized discrimination.

I have also experienced discrimination for being bisexual. As a student at the University of South Dakota, for example, I remember one day walking around campus and finding homophobic slurs chalked on the sidewalks, directed at everyone who is LGBT and especially at those who are attracted to men. As I walked around, I found those slurs and homophobic pictures chalked everywhere, all over campus. I also watched as a close friend was kicked out of the Boy Scouts for being gay. The people in Scouts, adults and children, were vicious with their homophobic slurs and jokes. And, just like with having information on your resume that suggests that you are a person of color, having information that in any way connects you to the LGBT community has been shown by research to result in significantly decreased rate of call-backs for job interviews.

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Where did you get your name?

My mother gave it to me. She says that she saw it one day in a newspaper and she liked the way it sounded.

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Do you know the history and meaning of your name?

A friend once told me he looked it up and traced it back. He told me that the name originates from DaShaun, which means "of Shaun," and that from there it went back to "Shaun," which was a variant of "John," who was one of the apostles of Jesus. My understanding is that "John" has Hebrew origins and means "God is gracious" or "Graced by God."

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Have you ever met anyone with your name?

No. I'd love to one day, though.

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Are you Native American?

Yes, I'm Lakota. Please keep in mind, though, that being Native American doesn't mean just one thing. There are many ways to be indigenous.

As an adoptee, much of my personal and ancestral history has been permanently obliterated, but I grew up with my culture and I began following my Lakota way of life when I was a child. So while finding out that I was adopted means that I no longer know whether or not I have Lakota ancestry, I have always followed my Lakota way of life, and I'm proud to say that I am Lakota.

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Is it true that you don't have religious freedom?

Unfortunately, yes. As I explain in my memoir and in my other writings about the eagle law, eagle and hawk feathers, amongst others, are an integral part of my spirituality, as they are for many Native Americans. We often times use them in prayer, in ceremony, and for dancing at wachipis or pow wows. But like many Native Americans who aren't enrolled in their tribes, federal law forbids me from having them. That's because in order to obtain and have eagle or hawk feathers, you need a federal permit. There are lots of tribes that are not federally recognized, and lots of people who can't get enrolled in their tribes for reasons beyond their control, but the law currently requires you to be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. Learning that I was adopted, however, made it so that I may never be able to know my full ancestry or be enrolled. So while I'm Lakota and have followed my Lakota spirituality since I was a child, I may never be able to determine or document whether or not I have indigenous ancestry, and I need that in order to become an enrolled tribal member so I could then get a permit and then have religious freedom. But I really don't think a person's religious freedom should be limited by their ancestry or group membership. The First Amendment doesn't promise religious freedom to some people while selectively denying it to others. It promises freedom to everyone. That's what our country was founded on.

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Can I use some of your work? What is your copyright and permissions policy?

For information about license and use of my work, please see my copyright and permissions policy.

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May I quote you?

Quotes can be used so long as they closely adhere to my copyright and permissions policy.

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I read a quote of your's somewhere. Do you endorse this person, group, or point of view?

In all likelihood, no. While I maintain a copyright and permissions policy largely for this reason, the uses to which people may apply things I have said are well beyond my control. Consequently, people sometimes use my words, or even words they may claim to be my own, without my foreknowledge or permission. Things I say, for example, can be taken out of context, misworded, misapplied, etc. As a general rule, if it does not appear on my website (, or in something I have personally written and published, odds are that the quote is not used with my permission. The only people, ideas, organizations, etc., that I endorse are those I explicitly identify as such in my personal appearances and published work.

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Do you endorse these people, resources, etc. that you've shared or followed on social media?

Not necessarily. I sometimes share, follow, retweet, etc. people, material, and points of view I disagree with in order to facilitate learning, dialogue, and change. Retweets, sharing, follows, etc. do not imply endorsement.

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What about these other websites I've seen with your information and material on them?

I've discovered that a number of individuals and organizations have been distributing my personal information as well as materials I've created without my foreknowledge or consent. Some have taken it upon themselves to steal, sell, modify, repurpose, and re-distrbute my contact information, to include me in directories without my foreknowledge or permission, and others have taken to archiving and distributing materials they represent as my own. Please be aware that I have no involvement with these organizations or their websites, and any content they are distributing is not within my control and should not be viewed as a legitimate representation of me, my views, or my work. I'm also aware that some of these organizations are attempting to profit from their theft and unauthorized distribution of my likeness, name, information, and work, such as by including ads on websites they implicitly or explicitly represent as my own, or by attempting to archive and otherwise distribute my name, likeness, and work for sale or download. Please be aware that I do not have any involvement in or control over these sites or their activities. I do not condone them in any way, and I do not benefit from or receive any compensation for their theft, sale, or distribution of my work or work they represent as my own. I am not affiliated with websites such as,,,,,,,,, myspace,, or These and other similar sites do not have permission to use or distribute my name, my likeness, or my work, in whole or in part for any purpose. The only organizations and websites that have permission to use or distribute my work are those I've referenced or linked to on my offical website,

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Can you tell me more about Religious Freedom with Raptors?

Religious Freedom with Raptors (RFR) was a small, informal political interest group that I founded and directed from 2005 to 2008. RFR was brought together to help improve the "eagle feather law," a federal law which undermines the religious freedom of many Native Americans, such as those who cannot get enrolled in their tribes, members of state recognized tribes, as well as some non-Native Americans who follow an indigenous spirituality and way of life. RFR is no longer operational, though perhaps it may come back one day.

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Are the petitions you authored with Religious Freedom with Raptors still active?

Unfortunately, no. The site hosting the petitions online closed. I do not have plans to create new petitions in the foreseeable future.

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Can you tell me more about the eagle feather law?

For more information, please see my published work about the eagle feather law. I also discuss the eagle law in several media appearances I've made. It's also something I discuss in my upcoming memoir, Recomposition.

Please especially see the Eagle Feather Law Resource Guide I've put together, as well as the following pieces I've written about the eagle law:

What Accidentally Discovering I was Adopted Taught Me About Religious Freedom

A Life in America Without Religious Freedom

The Eagle Feather Law and State Recognized Tribes

Time for New Eagle Feather Law

Eagle Feathers and the Imperialist Conquest of State Recognized Tribes

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How can I get involved or help to promote human rights and social justice?

Thank you for your interest in helping people. While I cannot give you specific advice, and the thoughts I share should not be taken as advice or direction, there are lots of things you can do. Writing op-eds or letters to the editor for newspapers and magazines can be a good way to spread the word, to participate in the dialogue on rights and equality. So too is blogging, calling in to talk radio shows, contacting your elected leaders, and talking to family and friends. It's also great to volunteer and donate to organizations that you can support.

I also encourage you to connect with me through social media to share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences with others.

Here are some additional links that might interest you:

Amnesty International: Get Involved

Unicef: What You Can Do

52 Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality

Marriage Equality USA: What You Else You Can Do

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Will you help me with a paper or project I'm working on?

I'm sorry, but due to the volume of email and requests I get, the legal issues involved, and the others demands on my time, I am unable to read or critique your work, or to help you with your paper or project. I do, however, wish you the very best of luck on your work!

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Can you tell me where I can get more information about Native Americans?

A great way to learn more about indigenous people is to attend Native American public events (like pow wows, culture fairs, exhibitions, etc.), to talk to a variety of Native people, visit your local library, and read books and publications written by Native authors. I have some links on my website to various blogs, websites, and papers that touch on Native American human rights issues that are very helpful.

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