Earlier this week, two groups of LSA leaders and members adopted statements relating to a range of issues at the intersection of language, linguistics and the indigenous communities of North America. The LSA Executive Committee has issued the statement below, and the LSA's Native 4 Linguistics Special Interest Group, issued its own statement [pdf].

In the last month, unmarked graves of hundreds of First Nations children have been found at residential "schools" in Kamloops, BC, and at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Additional sites are continuing to be uncovered, and may not be limited to Canada. These atrocities are bringing to international attention what has long been recognized among Indigenous communities: a systematic state- and religion-sponsored cultural and physical genocide. This is not ancient history. The Marieval site closed in 1997, and the last of these schools (if "schools" they can be called) did not close until 1999. The effects continue to be felt across generations, not just by the survivors of the schools, but also by their descendants and communities.

The Linguistic Society of America affirms that this is an issue linguists must acknowledge and address. The boarding schools in Canada and the US were a substantial cause of cultural and linguistic loss for communities whose trauma continues. It is relevant for language reclamation and revitalization; for linguistics as a field that engages with Indigenous communities on these and other topics; for the issue of support or exclusion from academia of Indigenous linguists; for the associations between linguistics and the religious organizations that perpetuated many of these atrocities, and for linguists and linguistics as a field as they continue -- or do not continue -- to perpetuate harm, whether intentionally or not. This is not a time to forget.

Words matter. Words can both harm and heal. The LSA points out the harm inflicted by language in discussions of these places that has minimized the violence that took place there. Discussing "assimilation" without acknowledging "genocide" is just one example. As linguists, we should also look within our own discipline for language that trivializes the harm done. Consider, for example, the portrayal of Indigenous language loss ultimately as a “choice”. Some children took extraordinary risks to sustain their languages and cultures, and underwent unspeakable punishments simply for speaking their languages. In many cases it was bravery alone that allowed the languages to survive. Tragically, some distort accounts of this horrifying situation to suggest that the children who did not take these risks had freely chosen to abandon their heritage. This is not a time to be silent.

We strongly reaffirm that "the LSA stands opposed to oppression and injustice in all its forms, and to the weaponization of language and culture”.

The Society reasserts its collective support for Indigenous communities and their members throughout the Americas, who are dealing with the aftermath of the news, the continuing effects of these longstanding policies, and continued systemic racism.  We greatly appreciate the call to action by the LSA Special Interest Group Natives4Linguistics for the linguistic community. The EC will respond to other requests once there has been a chance to discuss them. A formal proposal is being prepared for the EC to vote on that would establish a dedicated fund for Indigenous scholars to support their research and promote their language work.


For further reading

Davis. Jenny L. 2017. Resisting rhetorics of language endangerment: Reclamation through Indigenous language survivance. In Wesley Y. Leonard & Haley De Korne (eds), Language Documentation and Description, vol 14. London: EL Publishing. pp 37-58. http://www.elpublishing.org/PID/151.

Hill, Jane H. 2002. “Expert Rhetorics” in Advocacy for Endangered Languages: Who Is Listening, and What Do They Hear? Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 12(2). 119–133.

Leonard, Wesley Y. 2021. Centering Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Collaborative Language Work. In Lisa Crowshoe, Inge Genee, Mahaliah Peddle, Joslin Smith, & Conor Snoek, eds., Sustaining Indigenous Languages: Connecting Communities, Teachers, and Scholars, pp. 21-34. Northern Arizona University. https://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~jar/SILL/SILL3.pdf

Meek, Barbara. 2019. Language endangerment in childhood. Annual Review of Anthropology 48: 95-115. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-anthro-102317-050041.

Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas. https://www.ssila.org/

Treuer, Anton. 2020. The Language Warrior’s Manifesto: How to keep our languages alive no matter the odds. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Reports. Digital copies of important and relevant reports for Survivors and their families, researchers, media, and the public.  University of Manitoba. https://nctr.ca/records/reports/




  • President: Laurence R. Horn, Yale University, Emeritus
  • Vice President/President-Elect: John Baugh, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Secretary-Treasurer: Lenore Grenoble, University of Chicago


  • Marianne Mithun, University of California, Santa Barbara, Past President
  • Wunetu Tarrant, Bloch Fellow, University of Arizona (2022)
  • Jennifer Bloomquist, Gettysburg College (2022)
  • Chris Kennedy, University of Chicago (2022)
  • Sonja Lanehart, University of Arizona (2023)
  • Arthur K. Spears, City University of New York (2021)
  • Rebecca Scarborough, University of Colorado Boulder (2021)
  • Alicia Wassink, University of Washington (2023)
  • Alyson Reed, Linguistic Society of America, ex-officio