Adrienne Tsikewa
Photo by Robert Aaron

Adrienne Tsikewa is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She currently serves as the convener for the Native4Linguistics Special Interest Group. She is also a current member of the CoLang Advisory Circle and nominated future co-convenor. She earned an MA in Native American Languages and Linguistics (NAMA) from the University of Arizona in 2013. During her time at Arizona, she served as a Graduate Assistant for the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI). She recently taught online with AILDI during the summers of 2020 and 2021. Her research interests include language documentation and description, language reclamation and revitalization, sociocultural, applied linguistics, bilingualism, and code-switching. She recently published an article in the December 2021 online issue of Language: "Reimagining the current praxis of field linguistics training: Decolonial considerations."

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.


When did you first join the LSA?

I first joined in Fall 2016 in my first quarter as a Ph.D. linguistics student and attended my first meeting in 2017 (and also the Institute in Lexington 2017).

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined? 

I helped to organize a satellite workshop that was informally called “Natives4Linguistics” that occurred in conjunction with the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Salt Lake City from January 4-7, 2018. The goal of this workshop was to bring together Native American community-based language scholars and non-Indigenous linguists to discuss how Native American needs and views of language can be better incorporated into linguistic science. With its focus on the value of Native American needs and ways of knowing regarding language, not as objects of research but rather as valid ways to frame research, the workshop served as a foundation to build capacity for Native Americans and other Indigenous community members to not only participate in, but to also thrive in the discipline of Linguistics.

I helped to establish the official Natives4Linguistics SIG under LSA in 2019 and have served as its convenor since then. I will end my term as the convener in January 2022. A major accomplishment during my tenure was to collaboratively write the Statement from Indigenous linguists and language scholars on Boarding and Residential schools.

I also am an Advisory Circle member of CoLang (Institute on Collaborative Language Research) and have served on a sub-committee to revise the LSA/CoLang charter.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?  

In my opinion, becoming involved in the LSA provides numerous networking opportunities that have proven invaluable as a graduate student. To the field, LSA provides various training opportunities, such as the biennial Linguistic Institute.

What are you currently researching/working on? 

My dissertation focuses on my heritage language, Zuni (Shiwi’ma) and examines Zuni/English bilingualism through a structural and sociocultural lens. I am interested in the morphosyntax of Zuni and code-switching and how A:shiwi (Zuni people) feel about their language skills and how that relates to the current bilingual situation and future vitality of Zuni.

In January 2021, I started working with Dr. Colleen Fitzgerald on her NSF grant BCS-203991 "Strengthening Capacity in Dynamic Language Infrastructure for Tribal Nations" in the role of Cultural Ambassador. The goals of this project are to strengthen capacity in language infrastructure for tribal nations and to diversify the pool of investigators (and the research questions and epistemologies) to advance fundamental knowledge in the language sciences. This project created training opportunities and established partnerships between members of Native American groups and linguists with grant experience in order to help increase submissions and successful awards in the language sciences for projects led by Native American principal investigators, especially those based at Native American institutions. Stay tuned for more info on this much-needed project: colleenfitzgerald.org/fellows/

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?  

An unintentional result of my involvement with Natives4Linguistics is that I became so involved in the LSA in a short amount of time. This experience has been very eye-opening as a novice, underrepresented language scholar, and at times, has been soul-crushing. It also made me very visible within the LSA and the discipline, which I don’t always feel comfortable with, but I also realize that not many people, especially graduate students, have an opportunity like this. These are based on my experiences.

First, I would like to say to those that are in a position to mentor and advise Native American and Indigenous language scholars:

  1. Become informed on Indigenous research and decolonizing methodologies and discuss these with your students and how they may or may not connect to their desired approach to language research.
  2. Be always truthful about a student’s progress; don’t let them feel as if you gave them a pity pass. Create an environment where their progress can be discussed in a safe environment and check in on their well-being by asking if they have someone they talk to for support.   
  3. If the student needs extra support to get through some linguistics courses, do your best to provide them this support. Assist students as best as you can with creating a network of mentors with various skillsets for themselves that can also help support them.
  4. Provide opportunities that highlight the work of community-based language scholars involved in language revitalization and reclamation in your courses and department.
  5. Know that your student is probably already engaged in their own language work on top of coursework, and/or they spend a good amount of time educating their peers and faculty about Native American and Indigenous language efforts or perspectives on language issues. Check in on their well-being by asking if they have someone they talk to for support.  

Finally, to Native American and Indigenous language scholars, I’d also like to say:

  1. Find/create for yourself a network of mentors with various skillsets. Connect with someone with grant writing skills, language analysis skills, technology skills, computational skills, applied linguistic skills, etc. who is willing to serve as a resource for you.
  2. Imposter syndrome is real in graduate level work. There may be times when it can be overwhelming and very soul crushing. Find/create for yourself a support network system that can help you through these times. Your language is worth it. The Natives4Linguistics peer mentoring subcommittee can also be a resource during these times.
  3. There really is no training or available literature for working with your own community, even from a Native American/Indigenous studies perspective. This can also be difficult, and the support system needed to get through this may be beyond peer or mentor support, and that is okay.
  4. Know and make clear your boundaries when it comes to research. For example, I refuse to examine any language related to cultural religious esoteric practices that Zuni does (and is well known for) because that is not universal knowledge, I don’t have access to it, and know the repercussions for doing so.
  5. Let’s change the discipline to be more inclusive of the work we do for our languages. Stoodis!