Kathleen C. Whiteley

Kathleen Whiteley

Position Title
Assistant Professor

2421 Hart Hall


Kathleen Whiteley (Wiyot descent) is an assistant professor in the Department of Native American Studies. She was born and raised in Eureka, California, and is a descendant of the Wiyot Tribe. 

Prof. Whiteley’s research focuses on Native American history in California from the nineteenth century to the present, with particular emphasis on the social, legal, and gendered dimensions of Indigenous North America. 

Prof. Whiteley’s current book manuscript, Justice in the Balance: The Indians of California versus The United States of America, 1900- 1955, is the first work to trace the history of the land claims cases brought by the Native peoples of California against the U.S. federal government. This case revolved around the question of appropriate monetary compensation for the value of land that would have been set aside under eighteen treaties that were made between 1851 and 1852. Congress failed to ratify these treaties at the time, then put them under an injunction of secrecy. As a result, they remained “lost” until 1905. Justice in the Balance shows that this legal legacy of broken treaties and lost lands catalyzed California Indians to engage in longstanding and varied modes of intertribal activism to fight for their nations and their ancestral lands and waters. However, it argues, the court system was ultimately an imperfect vehicle for Native redress and paved the way for ongoing injustice. Exploring the themes of balance and justice through the lens of legal, social, and environmental history, this book offers critical insight into the historical and contemporary dimensions of contested territory and land rights—as well as the potential of returning land to Native Nations either through government policy or private initiative. 

After receiving her PhD in American Culture from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Prof. Whiteley was awarded a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Berkeley. She has also conducted research as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, served as the UC Davis Faculty Liaison to The Newberry Consortium in American Indian and Indigenous Studies, and is currently the Undergraduate Major Advisor for the Native American Studies department at UC Davis.

Selected publications and projects:

  • Justice in the Balance: The Indians of California versus The United States of America, 1900- 1955, manuscript in progress.
  • “History on the Lost Coast: Locating Wiyot Stories of Resilience in Nancy and Matilda Spear,” The American Historical Review. Forthcoming in a digital special issue on histories of resilience in October 2024. 
  • “Eagles of a Different Feather: The Surprising Alliances Related to the California Indian Land Claims Case, 1930-1946” (Under review)
  • Tuluwat Reclaimed, a short film co-produced alongside director Michelle Hernandez (Wiyot)
    • Tuluwat Reclaimed is sponsored by Centering Tribal Stories, a University of California multicampus grant. The film traces the intergenerational political activism and environmental cleanup to reclaim the village of Tuluwat in Eureka, California, featuring five interviews with Wiyot Tribal leaders and community members to. A multimedia project, it features a 15-minute film and an interactive website highlighting historical media, contemporary art, and maps of land returned to the Wiyot Tribe. Website URL with video link forthcoming.


Education and Degree(s)
  • Ph.D. University of Michigan, Department of American Culture
  • M.A. University of Michigan, Department of American Culture
  • B.A. University of California, Berkeley, Department of Native American Studies
Honors and Awards
  • University of California Humanities Research Institute, Faculty Summer Research Funding, Summer 2023.
  • UC Davis Center for the Advancement of Multicultural Perspectives on Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (CAMPSSAH), Fall 2020 cohort
  • University of California, President's Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley, 2020-2021
  • Harvard University, Visiting Fellow, Department of History, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, 2019-2020
  • NAS 1. Introduction to Native American Studies
  • NAS 130B. Native American Ethno-Historical Development, 1770-1890
  • NAS 130C. Native American Ethno-Historical Development, after 1890
  • NAS 280. Ethnohistorical Theory and Method
Research Interests & Expertise
  • California Indian History
  • Gender and Women's History
  • Native American History
  • American Studies
Membership and Service
  • The Newberry Library, Newberry Consortium in American Indian Studies, Faculty Liaison, 2021-present
  • Western History Association (WHA)
  • Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA)
  • American Studies Association (ASA)
  • California Indian Studies and Scholars Association (CISSA)