About Dr. DaShanne Stokes

About Dr. Stokes' Work

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 unearned white racial privilege for my physical appearance, I have also experienced racism for being Native American and for having a “black sounding” name. I have been mistaken for other races and can only imagine what racism I may have experienced without knowing it. While I may benefit from male privilege in some regards, I have also experienced homophobia for being bisexual, sex discrimination for having a “female” sounding name, and transphobia and gender discrimination for being genderfluid (transgender). I’ve also been discriminated against for being an adoptee. I’ve been discriminated against for my Lakota spirituality. Unlike most Americans, I also do not have religious freedom, a result of combined racial, ethnic, and religious/spiritual discrimination connected to my divergent racial and ethnic identities. I am a racial majority, but an ethnic/cultural, gender, sexual, adoption, and religious minority.

For being Native Americans, for example, 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.

I have experienced also discrimination for having what most people consider to be a “black sounding” 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. My experience confirms this. I also have many experiences with varied reactions to people learning that I am not African American.

I have also experienced sex discrimination for having what many people also consider to be a “female” sounding name, which research also shows can affect how, or even if, you are considered for employment opportunities.

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. I’ve known people who thought bisexual men don’t exist, and I’ve been called just about every homophobic slur there is.

As someone who is genderfluid, I have been mis-gendered. Others in the LGBT and transgender community have also mocked and laughed at people like me for our gender identities. Some have attempted to erase and marginalize me and others like me by suggesting that being genderfluid is nothing but a fad, trend, or political statement. I also am not free to be myself, to behave, dress, or present myself in ways consistent with my gender identity without fear of job loss, pay and employment repercussions, discrimination, violence, and being the target of hate crimes. I generally have to try to "pass" as straight and cis-gender to protect myself in my every day life. Research shows that those of my gender and orientation can expect to be paid about the same or even less than other women.

I've also had straight, white, and cisgender colleagues--many of whom consider themselves to be open-minded, progressive, social justice advocates--brush me aside, deny or downplay what I was saying, and have even been told I was being "too sensitive" when I tried discussing with them the extensive body of peer-reviewed, published research showing that students are openly prejudiced against faculty members who are ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities, such as myself.

For being an adoptee, I have also had my rights to my original birth certificate and my right to know my true identity and birth family withheld from me. These are rights the average citizen never has to think about.

As someone who is not Christian, I am a religious/spiritual minority in a land where Christian privilege and Christian normativity dominate.

These, of course, are just some of my personal experiences with a complex mix of advantages and disadvantages.

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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.

My Lakota identity is my cultural/spiritual identity, my ethnic identity, and I make no claims to have Lakota ancestry. As an adoptee, much of my personal and ancestral history has been permanently obliterated, but I began learning about and following my Lakota way of life when I was a young child. I have identified as Lakota since 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 culturally (ethnically) Lakota.

You can learn more about my background in some of my published work, such as my articles "What Accidentally Discovering I Was Adopted Taught Me About Religious Freedom" and "A Life in America Without Religious Freedom" that have been published in HuffPost.

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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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