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ASU scholars, students embed in indigenous communities with research in Indian Country

November 7, 2018

Sun Devil researchers are making an impact for indigenous peoples around Arizona

NCAA college basketball rarely makes it to the far reaches of the Navajo Nation. But this weekend, the Arizona State University women’s basketball team will take on national powerhouse Baylor University in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

Organized in conjunction with ASU’s Office of American Indian Initiatives, the “Showdown on the Rez” will take place on Veterans Day and serve as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month, as well as provide a platform to recognize and honor Native Americans who served in the armed forces.

Watch: ESPN2 will broadcast the Showdown on the Rez on Sunday

But athletes aren’t the only members of the Sun Devil family making an impact on indigenous communities around Arizona. The university also boasts another VIP team — faculty, staff, researchers and students who contribute to the well-being and advancement of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

Health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability, research methodologies, higher education experiences: ASU has a wide breadth of research and interaction taking place in Indian Country. And this is evident throughout the year, not just in November.

“One of the hallmarks at ASU for our work with tribal communities and Native students is about building capacity and creating futures of their own making,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. “Our goal is to interface with all 22 tribes and nations and every Native person in Arizona if we can.”

They’re making a good dent in the Navajo Nation. Lamont Yazzie is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the justice studies program in the School of Social Transformation, where his dissertation work on research methodologies is helping advance Diné learners.

Specifically, his research compares the space between Western society in America and indigenous communities, the structural oppression that exists and how their people have responded to education hurdles in the past.

“It’s paying homage to the knowledge systems of our ancestors because everything we have needed has always been there,” Yazzie said. “Looking at education through a Navajo lens, we can legitimize our thought process, legitimize our perspective and legitimize our way of life.”

Colin Ben, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a postdoctoral research scholar in the School of Social Transformation, is also researching Navajo education. His paper, “Navajo Student Decision Making,” was presented at the “Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" conference, a partnership between ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and the Office of American Indian Initiatives that was held Nov. 1–2 at ASU SkySong.

His research examines decision-making factors influencing Diné students’ pursuit of doctoral education and their experiences of persisting in graduate school despite difficult and discouraging experiences.

Ben discovered that indigenous students face more hurdles than most, including cultural transitions, isolation, financing programs, obligations to the tribal community, taking care of elderly parents, driving long distances to school and maintaining a full-time job.

“There’s a toll that it takes on them, not only financially but physically and mentally. It was wearing them out,” Ben said. “But what pushed them through was the fact that they wanted these advanced skill sets to enhance their career opportunities and trajectory. Also, they had a strong desire to give back to their community.”

Ben said he has shared his findings with his tribal elders, as well as with ASU administrators to address policy issues to better serve Native students.

That’s exactly what Deborah Chadwick is doing in her work as project director of the Center for Indian Education. In 2014, she developed a first-of-its-kind program that trains future teachers on their home reservation with a focus on tribal history and keeping alive the Akimel O’otham language. The first master's cohort graduated in spring 2018.

This year Chadwick is thinking beyond the borders of the Akimel O’otham reservation and has been an integral part of the newly offered online master’s degree program in indigenous education being launched next spring. The 30-credit program will be taught by mostly indigenous faculty and is specifically geared toward Native Americans who live in remote sites and on reservations.

“It’s not just for people in Arizona but nationally and internationally,” Chadwick said. “We’ve had inquiries from around the world.”

Tennille Marley, a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies program, recently finished research on two papers dealing with diabetes in tribal communities and data sovereignty in the research process.

Her paper “History: A Determinant of American Indian Health” examined how history has impacted diabetes. She said colonization, especially by the U.S. government, heavily influenced dietary practices of Native Americans by placing them on reservations and introducing rations, which many were forced to take for survival.

“They replaced our traditional diets. For example, fry bread and tortillas, which are not traditional dishes, are now a staple,” Marley said. “I’m hoping the paper will encourage Native American communities to go back to our traditional dietary practices and to help health care providers and research better understand diabetes in Native American communities.”

She has a willing ear in David R. Wilson, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and an ASU doctoral graduate. Wilson is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which was established in 2015.

Wilson also attended the conference at ASU SkySong, which was a gathering of approximately 175 Native American faculty and researchers at ASU and visitors. Wilson was a keynote speaker, but he was also there to communicate the work that happens across the NIH with tribal nations.

“The overall goal of the NIH’s engagement in this event is to not only introduce the Tribal Health Research Office but also to convey the importance of the NIH’s commitment to health in tribal communities through research,” Wilson said. “An important part of that is to increase opportunities for professional development to the Native American student base that exists here. Also, to collaborate with tribes that are interested in research. The best way to accomplish this is to increase communications between the university, the NIH and tribal nations. A successful collaboration will lead to a more diverse biomedical research community that also understands the cultural competencies that are important and respectful to ethical research in the tribal communities.”

While most of the research being conducted by indigenous scholars at ASU is being carried out in the field and in the classroom, some of it is being done in labs. Gary F. MooreMoore was the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant, a prestigious grant to support emerging academic scholars. This year, he was one of three doctoral advisers recognized nationally as an exceptional mentor by the ARCS Foundation., an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, studies what plants can teach us about solar energy storage, which currently is too expensive to use on a mass scale.

“My research group is investigating the molecular science required to produce fuels and other valuable chemicals from sunlight, water and air, thereby replacing fossil inputs and creating renewable processes,” said Moore, a chemist from the Powhatan Pamunkey tribe in Virginia. He is researching methods to harness sustainable energy using approaches inspired by nature’s process of photosynthesis.

He said that although his lab is not currently working with an Arizona tribe, he believes this type of approach has great appeal to nations looking to harness energy in a decentralized fashion and with minimal environmental disruption.

“Each house could become its own power plant,” Moore said. “It’s an approach that could potentially fit well with tribal communities if those communities are willing and receptive to adopting such technologies.”  

Read: New magazine, ASU initiatives help Native students reach a ‘Turning Point’

Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Angela Gonzales speaks during a panel discussion on "What is indigenous research? What does research in indigenous communities look like?" The panel was part of the two-day conference on "Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" at ASU SkySong on Nov. 1–2. The morning panel discussion drew around 60 people including several ASU students. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU announces series of events celebrating indigenous culture in April 2019

October 9, 2018

In April 2019, ASU will celebrate indigenous culture with the ASU Pow Wow and the premiere of a new theatrical experience, "Native Nation," both of which will honor spiritual legacy and be an opportunity to share traditions and honor the past as well as celebrate the future. American Indian culture continues to play an important role in the development of the Americas and a significant role in Arizona. 

“ASU’s commitment to indigenous communities, nations, and our students, staff and faculty is clear," said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy (Lumbee), President’s Professor, senior adviser to ASU President Michael Crow and director of the Center for Indian Education. "We are here to create futures of their own making and do so with a connection to place. Both the ASU Pow Wow and 'Native Nation' allow us to assert our commitment to the future and to place. We continue to strive to be an institution where Indigenous peoples see themselves as mattering.”   Kinsale Hueston performs in "Urban Rez." Photo by Kevin Michael Campbell Download Full Image

ASU Pow Wow to be first cultural festival at the new Sun Devil Stadium

April 12–14, 2019

American Indian dancers and singing groups from across the United States and Canada will be featured at this social gathering that reinforces the common bond and spirituality existing between individuals from many North American nations through singing and dancing. The cultural diffusion that takes place at the ASU Pow Wow helps bridge existing gaps in any misunderstanding of tradition and respect. The Pow Wow at Arizona State University is a culmination of American Indian beliefs and traditions that inspire, communicate and support American Indian culture. American Indians represent an increasing percentage of the student population at ASU and with pride seek academic and cultural enrichment by maintaining and sharing heritage and traditions with the community. 

Five age groups — consisting of senior men and women, adult men and women, teen boys and girls, junior boys and girls, and tiny tot boys and girls — will all be dancing and competing in different dance categories. The ASU Pow Wow will feature various American Indian arts and crafts vendors from throughout the United States and Canada. This series of annual pow wows presented by the ASU Pow Wow Committee is specifically designed to preserve the inter-tribal cultural heritage of the American Indian students at ASU and to enrich and demonstrate the cultural diversity of the ASU community and surrounding population. 

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A young girl dances at the 32nd annual Pow Wow at ASU.

New play 'Native Nation' to be presented at Steele Indian School Park

April 27–28, 2019

ASU Gammage, in partnership with Cornerstone Theater Company, will present "Native Nation," written by Larissa FastHorse and directed by Michael John Garcés, at Steele Indian School Park at 2 and 7 p.m. April 27–28. This is an indigenous theatrical experience for the whole family with the original people of this land to see the world through their eyes. Part marketplace, cultural performance, community gathering and theater, "Native Nation" is a new experience that will forever change the way you see this land.

“We are so excited to welcome the entire community in April to celebrate and honor indigenous culture with these two incredible events at ASU," said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president for cultural affairs. "With the mission of connecting communitiesASU Cultural Affairs believes cultural events facilitate building significant bonds of respect between communities, and no connection is more important than with the American Indian community.” 

Tickets for all events will be for sale on Ticketmaster. 

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Celebrating Columbus continues to be controversial

October 7, 2018

ASU scholar says federal holiday instituted in 1937 should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day

Today millions of Americans are enjoying a day off work — a tip of the hat to Christopher Columbus, the man who history says discovered this country in 1492.

But many Native American scholars scoff at the idea of celebrating a federal holiday in honor of a man they believe was a savage, and they want the history books to be updated to reflect his atrocities and misdeeds.

Once such scholar is Leo Killsback, an Arizona State University assistant professor of American Indian studies and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Killsback said Columbus’ legacy is based on “misinformation and outright lies.”

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Leo Killsback

ASU Now spoke to Killsback about this controversial holiday and his hopes that one day it might be replaced with a tribute to indigenous people.

Question: Most Americans recognize Christopher Columbus as the man who discovered America, but recently academics — most especially Native Americans — don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory. Why? 

Answer: Columbus did not “discover” a land that was already inhabited by millions of indigenous peoples and hundreds of indigenous nations. Historical facts prove that the legacy of Christopher Columbus is based on misinformation and outright lies. For instance, Columbus never landed on the mainland, which would become the United States of America. In 1492, he arrived at the Caribbean islands, yet he believed until his dying day that he landed in the East Indies, which are located halfway around the globe in Southeast Asia. His legacy has been a topic of contention for years among American Indian scholars, yet the legitimacy of Columbus’ “discovery” did not become a mainstream issue until the quincentennial of his 1492 voyage.

Q: Native Americans have stated that Columbus had great ill will toward indigenous people. What are some examples of this?

A: It has been well documented, even in Columbus’ diaries, that he and his men committed the most inhumane and grotesque atrocities against indigenous men, women and children. Columbus and his men met the Arawak people who were indigenous to the island that is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He enslaved them in mass numbers and forced them to mine for gold. The Arawak endured violent punishments and bodily dismemberment if they did not produce a certain amount of gold in a given time.

There are also numerous accounts of sexual violence and trafficking of indigenous women and the torture and murder of indigenous children. The Arawaks resisted but could not stop the onslaught of violence. The survivors who witnessed the end of their world either committed mass suicide or were sold into slavery. When Columbus landed on the island in 1492 there were approximately 250,000 natives; by 1550 there were only 500; by 1650 the entire population was annihilated. These facts and numbers are the definition of genocide.

Q: Given what you’ve just said, how can the general public become more enlightened?

A: I have observed that most folks do not know the true history of Columbus and therefore never felt the need to question why his legacy is celebrated. If the general public were to simply rely on facts, then they would find that celebrating Columbus Day is offensive, embarrassing and completely absurd. Although history cannot be changed, we most certainly can deconstruct outdated historical narratives and revise history using facts and incorporating indigenous perspectives. The general public may then find that celebrating Columbus as an American hero is inappropriate. Other than his legacy of genocide against indigenous peoples, here are some facts:

  • He did not land on the mainland of what is now the United States.
  • He was not an American; he was Italian.
  • He did not sail for America; he sailed for Spain.
  • He did not serve the interests of America; he served the interests of two monarchs: King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
  • The Americas are named after Amerigo Vespucci, who landed on the mainland in what is now South America.
  • Today the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the islands that Columbus landed on, do not celebrate Columbus Day.
  • Today Columbus Day is one of 10 U.S. federal holidays and one of three holidays that celebrate individual persons: The other two are Americans George Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Q: What are some of the topics you discuss in your courses about Columbus Day, and how can we move forward?

A: The idea that Columbus or any other European explorer could “discover” a new land was based on a legal document that completely stripped away the rights of indigenous peoples. In 1493, a year after Columbus’ first voyage, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull “Inter caetera,” which formally and legally proclaimed that any land that was not inhabited by Christians could be claimed by any Christian sovereign that “discovered” it. The “doctrine of discovery” thus became the legal mechanism to legitimize the extermination of indigenous people and the thievery of their lands.

From a modern perspective, it is completely insane to think that an entire race of people could lose their human rights simply because another race of people “discovered” them. Yet this irrational thinking is implied and reinforced when people celebrate Columbus’ supposed “discovery” of America. They are essentially celebrating the diminishment of indigenous peoples’ rights, declaring that American Indians, then and now, do not matter.

Numerous states, cities and universities across the country have joined the movement to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day. Given the large populations of American Indian and indigenous peoples in the United States, their land base and their contributions, it is practical and sensible to celebrate them, their histories, cultures and legacies. Indigenous Peoples Day is simply just more positive.

Top photo: Statue of Christopher Columbus. Courtesy of Pixabay

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ASU poet Natalie Diaz wins MacArthur 'genius' grant

October 4, 2018

'Magician with words' explores how language can exist in our bodies and shape identity

Arizona State University poet Natalie Diaz has been named one of 25 winners of this year's John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships, commonly known as MacArthur "genius" grants.

Diaz, an associate professor in the Department of English, blends the personal, political and cultural in poems that draw on her experiences as a Mojave woman to challenge the mythological and cultural touchstones underlying American society.

The fellowship is a prestigious honor, a recognition of exceptional creativity, and it is not, the foundation emphasizes, a lifetime achievement award but instead a search for people on the verge of a great discovery or a game-changing idea. Winners, who must be nominated, receive a no-strings-attached stipend for $625,000, paid over five years.

Diaz, who has done work to help preserve the Mojave language, says she was not always a poet.

"Poetry is strange, and my arrival to it was, I think, a little bit unorthodox. I was always an athleteDiaz played point guard on the Old Dominion University women’s basketball team, reaching the NCAA Final Four as a freshman and the Sweet Sixteen her other three years. She would later play professional basketball in Europe and Asia before returning to school for her master's in poetry and fiction at Old Dominion., and so for me poetry is one way I center myself in my body," Diaz said in a video by the MacArthur Foundation. "The way that happens is, I really believe in the physical power of poetry, of language. Where we come from, we say language has an energy, and I feel that it is a very physical energy. I believe in that exchange, and to me it's very similar to what I did on a basketball court."

WATCH: The MacArthur Foundation video with Natalie Diaz

Diaz identifies as indigenous, Latinx and as a queer woman, and she told the MacArthur Foundation that what she hopes her work can offer "a queer writer or a queer-identifying person in general is the space to one, hold the ways we've been hurt and the ways we've been erased and also to hold in the other hand, simultaneously, the way we deserve love, our capacities for love and all of the innovative ways we've managed to find to express that love to one another."

Recently, Diaz has been dabbling in new work concerning the importance of water, which reflects her strong affinity for environmental and humanitarian issues. Last summer, she wrote, curated and led an exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City titled “Words for Water: Stories and Songs of Strength by Native Women” that featured a collective of indigenous women poets, writers and musicians exploring the power of language, story and song in the fight for environmental and cultural justice.

Diaz is the founder of archiTEXTS, a program that facilitates conversations — on and off the page — and collaborations between people who value poetry, literature and story. In November 2017, archiTEXTS held an event at ASU called “Legacies: A Conversation with Sandra Cisneros, Rita Dove and Joy Harjo,” in which the authors discussed their personal journeys through the American literary landscape.

Colleagues have remarked on the unique way Diaz plays with language, manipulating traditional structures into something completely unexpected and forcing the reader to rethink what words really mean.

"Natalie Diaz is a magician with words," said Bryan Brayboy, President's Professor and directorBrayboy is a President’s Professor of indigenous education and justice in the School of Social Transformation, as well as senior advisor to the president, associate director of the School of Social Transformation and co-editor of the Journal of American Indian Education. of the Center for Indian Education at ASU. "In her hands, they are much more than singular words strung together to make meaning; she weaves them together through textured, embodied and nuanced precision. Simply put, the words are better when she puts them together.

"Many of us have seen Natalie's genius up close. It is powerful, profound and provocative. Her presence changes conversations for the better." 

SHELF LIFE: More info on Diaz's debut collection, "When My Brother Was an Aztec"

This September, two of Diaz's poems — “American Arithmetic” and “Cranes, Mafiosos, and a Polaroid Camera” — were featured at Motionpoems, an event showcasing a collection of short films based on poems. Diaz said she was drawn to the project because she loves film and thinks in images.

"The word imagination is made up of image," she said. "There can be no future without images, without the images of our past that we dream or Rubik's cube into a new configuration of what is possible."

Both poems will be part of her second book, "Post Colonial Love Poem," which will be available in 2020, and have influenced her Ford Justice Grant work.

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

ASU Rising Voices Lecture features ‘peaceful warrior’ Calvin Terrell

September 19, 2018

Ten years after the election of Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, the United States is still walking a line between hope and hate.

What has changed over the last decade when it comes to race and democracy? What can each of us do to move democracy and human beings forward?  Calvin Terrell Calvin Terrell presents a balanced examination of what's changed in America in the decade since the election of President Barack Obama — and what we can do to move democracy and human beings forward, in ASU's Rising Voices Lecture "Hope, Honesty, and Hate," on Friday, Sept. 21, at South Mountain Community College. Download Full Image

Those questions will be the focus when social observer and changemaker Calvin Terrell presents the next lecture in the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy’s Rising Voices series at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21, in the South Mountain Community College Performing Arts Center.  

Terrell will use the lenses of rhetoric, art, science and religion to provide a balanced examination of America’s last decade, not as a Democrat or Republican but as a “peaceful warrior of critical thought,” said Professor Lois Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

“This moment in time seems to call for an honest exploration of America’s past, present and future in a way that would encourage reflection, discourse, and positive change,” Brown continued. “We invited Calvin knowing his ability to deliver a dynamic, interactive lecture focused on education and healing.”

She said Terrell deftly mixes storytelling, dialogue and visualization tools to engage his audiences and bring people to an understanding of how we each can take an active role in influencing and shaping the future of our communities.

“He’s brilliant, inspiring and ever hopeful,” she added, “but also driven by a deep understanding of the urgency of combating racism, bullying, and prejudice so that every individual can bring their full potential to the planet.”

Though based in Arizona, Calvin Terrell is known as a thought leader well beyond the state for his work with faith groups, schools, corporations, governments and civic organizations wanting to create nurturing healthy environments to help all peoples live better together.

The founder and lead facilitator of Social Centric Institute, he has, for more than 20 years, lectured, trained and led comprehensive workshops for valuing diversity, equity and justice-building as well as healing historical trauma around racial intersections, class, religion, gender and environmental disruption. 

His work has garnered regional awards and honors, including from Arizona Affirmative Action, Davis Monthan Air Force Base and, in 2000, the city of Phoenix, which honored him with the Martin Luther King Jr. “Living the Dream” award for his dedication to human rights.

A compelling story about his work with youth is featured in the book “Chicken Soup for the African American Soul.”     

Terrell founded Social Centric Institute “because this work is bigger than a person or personalities,” noted the institute's website. “Change requires a movement of communities, institutions, and peoples dedicated and equipped to sustain a life-long journey.”   

As President Barack Obama said on the eve of his re-election in 2012, “As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.”

This Rising Voices Lecture is free and open to the public and co-sponsored by the Maricopa Community Colleges. You may register online or contact the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, at email or phone 602-496-1376. The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy is a unit of ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. You can also view this on the ASU Events site.

Maureen Roen

Editorial and communication coordinator, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


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Gila River Indian Community members see traditional house designs come to life

Gila River residents work with ASU team on culturally relevant housing design.
September 13, 2018

ASU professor, students work with residents on more efficient, culturally relevant housing

Family is the most important thing to people who live in the Gila River Indian Community, and the houses they live in should reflect that reality.

That was the key concept that members of the community told a group from Arizona State University earlier this week. About 30 community members participated in an idea session with several graduate students and an architecture professor to design new housing that would be culturally relevant.

Wanda Dalla Costa, an architect and Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has been working with the Gila River Indian Community on the concept for about three years. She calls it “design sovereignty.”

“They’ve been residents of the desert for thousands of years, and they’ve figured out how to live in the climate,” said Dalla Costa, a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta, Canada. Dalla Costa was the first First Nations woman to become a registered architect in Canada.

“I don’t use the word design — it’s co-design, because I’m not living there, they are living there. Even though I am indigenous, it’s not my culture.”

Thousands of years ago, the Gila River tribal members built dwellings with thick adobe walls to protect them from the heat. But in the 1960s, the federal government began providing standardized housing to reservations, which wasn’t designed for the desert climate. The Gila River Indian Community wants future housing to not only be culturally relevant but also more energy efficient.

Last year, Dalla CostaDalla Costa also is an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. met with several Gila River residents for the first time to talk about what their houses should look like. They produced about half a dozen designs, ranging from about 1,600 to 2,600 square feet.

On Tuesday, Dalla Costa gathered the community members together with about 30 ASU graduate students in the architecture, business administration, construction and American Indian Studies master’s degree programs. In a classroom at the Huhugam Heritage Center, the residents divided into groups, took those initial designs and talked more specifically about what they wanted. The students offered different wall, roof and window options, which were then visualized in a three-dimensional computer program.

Skyler Anselmo, a 23-year-old member of the community, said that many times, more than one family lives in a house.

“We grew up sharing space,” he said. “The houses we have now are crowded together and there’s no synergy.

“The foundation of our culture is to share and prosper together,” said Anselmo, who works in Sacaton in the AmeriCorps program.

Dalla Costa told the groups they could push the envelope, and Anselmo’s group did. They designed a house with a large, open, round central family room, with other rooms coming off of it like spokes.

The community members were nearly unanimous in their desire for an outdoor cooking area, as well as a shaded patio and a play area. They were also interested in traditional features that are sustainable, like a rainwater catcher.

And everyone wants a garden.

“It’s part of our history, when we were self-sustaining,” Anselmo said. “It goes back to the roots of our culture when we grew our own food.”

Sky Dawn Reed, who earned a master’s in science and technology policy degree at ASU and now works in the planning department of the Gila River Indian Community, said the design should be flexible.

“We should think about making the houses solar-ready,” she said. “It might not be doable now, but maybe we can do it later. It might even be far off, but we should be forward-thinking.”

Belinda Ayze, a graduate student in the American Indian Studies program at ASU, sat with an elderly resident and helped to facilitate her discussion about the design.

“I was asking her how she lived her life and how she cooked and if she wanted wheelchair ramps and bars in the shower,” she said.

“I asked why she wants a cooking area outside, and she said, ‘Food tastes better with fire.’ ”

Ayze, a Navajo, said the older residents she talked to wanted traditional adobe walls and doors that face east.

“I think it’s a good idea to make the houses the way they want and the way they’ve always dreamed of living with their families,” she said.

The goal is to train Gila River residents to build the houses. Last spring, ASU architecture master’s student Selina Martinez designed a traditional adobe shade structure, or “vatho,” which was constructed by a team of Gila River builders, led by master builder Aaron Sabori.

Dalla Costa hopes to come up with about six final designs, with one or two selected to go into construction drawings. Then a prototype would be constructed within the next year. 

“The design belongs to you, and construction should belong to you because I know there is a long history of constructing your own homes,” she told the community.

Top photo: Members of the Gila River Indian Community look over several of the housing designs for the Gila River Indian Community in a collaboration between members of the community and graduate students from ASU schools of architecture, business, engineering and American Indian studies, at the Huhugam Heritage Center on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Fulbright scholar will spend fall semester studying US Native American children’s education

September 11, 2018

Maggie Walter is using her award to build on her body of work in indigenous-releated research

Maggie Walter has flown more than 8,000 miles to study how Native American children, families and schools in Arizona work to maximize educational outcomes. The 2018 Fulbright Scholar will also bond with fellow researchers and build on her body of work in indigenous-related research.

Walter is an Australian sociologist, author and a palawa (aboriginal) woman descending from the Pairrebenne people of northeastern Tasmania. The pro vice-chancellor of aboriginal research and leadership at the University of Tasmania, Walter will spend the next few months at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus gathering data and stories for a potential new book.

ASU Now spoke to Walter days after she landed in the U.S. to discuss her work and research opportunities.

Question: Tell us about the work you'll be doing this semester.

Answer: My Fulbright program of work is based around two main activities: a comparative quantitative of educational outcomes for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia and Native American and Alaskan Native here in the United States, plus some policy analysis. And network building with indigenous scholars here who work in the area of indigenous education. 

So while there will be some heavy-duty statistical work happening, I will also be out and about as much as possible meeting and talking with other scholars.

Q: Why did you specifically want to come to ASU?

A: I was inspired to come to ASU because Professors Bryan Brayboy and Tsianina Lomawaima are based here and I am an admirer of their scholarship in the field. I have much to learn from them. ASU is also located in an area of the U.S. with a relatively large Native American population; I really want to see some of the work happening in schools. 

Q: Are there any similarities in the experiences of indigenous peoples in the U.S. and Australia? 

A: Yes, there are very strong similarities in how disadvantaged our peoples are and the difficulties of living as an indigenous minority within a nonindigenous majority population. These similarities are very evident in relation to our children’s educational outcomes with both populations recording relatively low levels of educational achievement as measured within current schooling systems. But this is not just a story of underachieving — I am more interested in what indigenous people here in Arizona are doing to improve those outcomes in ways that are culturally safe and culturally strong and engaging with the scholarship around this. 

Major differences are found in systems of governance, especially tribal leadership and the relationship of those systems of governance with state and federal authorities.

Q: What are you most excited about with the Fulbright?

A: I am really excited about the opportunity to come and actually live and research here at ASU. This provides a wealth of opportunities to both grow my own scholarship as well as initiate collaborations and connections that are just not achievable through emails, visits or other ways of interacting. 

Top photo: Professor Maggie Walter, sociologist and pro vice-chancellor of aboriginal research and leadership at the University of Tasmania, poses for a portrait outside the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing on the Tempe campus on Sept. 7, 2018. Walter will be at ASU this fall to connect her research on aboriginal people and Native American tribes in the Southwest.

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As football season returns, so does sports name controversy

Prof: Disingenuous 'honor' of Native mascots tied to nation’s history of racism.
September 6, 2018

ASU professor says sports teams' indigenous names and mascots intensify prejudicial attitudes toward Native Americans

Editor's note: ASU Now chooses not to use the word that is the proper name of the Washington NFL football team in this or any future story, given its nature to many in our community as a deeply hurtful racial slur.

The NFL season kicks off this weekend in Glendale with the Arizona Cardinals taking on the Washington football team, whose name has been the source of much controversy.

The Sunday matchup will draw thousands of fans to cheer for these two longtime rivals. It will also draw a smaller group of detractors to the game, Arizona to Rally Against Native Mascots, who will host a press rally and march of protest on the morning of the game. They claim that Washington's name is a “dictionary-defined racial slur rooted in the attempted genocide of indigenous people.” They are calling for the immediate retirement of the name and logo because it denigrates Native Americans.

And the problem isn’t limited to just one or two teams — it’s pervasive, according to Terry Kaiser Borning, a senior Drupal developer with ASU’s Enterprise Marketing Hub. Borning is the creator of, a searchable database website for team names of high school, college and professional sports. He recently completed a link of sports teams past and present who use indigenous names and mascots. Some of those team names: Halfbreeds, Injuns, Squaws and Scalping Braves.

That’s simply unacceptable, says James Riding In, a founding member of ASU’s American Indian Studies Program and a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. Riding In’s scholarly works have been published in numerous academic journals and books, and he has served as an expert witness in several legal cases, including Pro-Football Inc. v. Amanda Blackhorse (2015). He said sports teams who use indigenous names, logos and mascots are offensive and “inextricably tied to this nation’s history of racism” and that their behavior is “self-serving.”

ASU Now recently spoke to Riding In on this controversial subject.

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James Riding In

Question: Many people who follow sports, especially teams with indigenous names and mascots, say the names are meant to be respectful and to pay homage to Native American people, and their mascots focus on bravery and courage rather than anything derogatory. What would you like to say to them?

Answer: I flatly reject the contention of team owners and sports fans that American Indian-oriented team names, logos and mascots in professional and amateur sports pay homage to Indian bravery and courage. Their so-called honoring celebrations of Indian heroism are not only misguided, harmful and offensive to Indians but are also inextricably tied to this nation’s history of racism. Because their behavior falls within a historical pattern of white American privilege that includes devising images of others for self-servicing purposes, they are participating in a disingenuous culture of honor. Indians, victims of this unwanted attention, should be the ones to determine what constitutes honor and respect in instances such as these.

Since the early 1960s, indigenous individuals, including Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse, have acted with undaunted bravery and courage in their challenges to the phenomena of offensive sports pageantry. The National Congress of American Indians, joined by the National Indian Education Association and many other groups, has been at the forefront of this human rights movement. Research supports contentions that the mascots and names have harmful psychological effects on Indian high school and college students. These studies also indicate that Indian-themed names, logos and mascots reinforce negative views held by non-Indians toward Indians. Fortunately, these findings have encouraged many churches and professional organizations such as the American Psychology Association to adopt resolutions calling for the retirement of the negative imagery in sports.

These efforts and resolutions have encouraged hundreds of schools, colleges and universities across the nation to do away with offensive team mascots, logos and names. Yet holdouts, mostly at the professional sports level, have refused to change behaviors that promote harassment and prejudice toward Indians. Indian voices of defiance calling for common-sense solutions are often met with threats, ridicule and mockery.

Q: In the specific case of the Washington, whose team owner Dan Snyder refuses to budge on the name and logo, fans and members of the public say the mascot does not look foolish, weak or clownish — and it reminds them of our country’s heritage and that indigenous people are resilient and strong.  

A: Despite facing criticism from Indians since the 1960s, the Washington team steadfastly refuses to change its name. That team’s fans all too often act in foolish and clownish ways that make a mockery out of Indian cultures. At other stadiums, fans often make outlandish “Indian” war hoops and do “tomahawk chops” while humming a Hollywood tune. Zealous fans from competing teams express their team loyalty by using such disparaging phrases as “scalp the Indians.”

Historically, white America has not viewed indigenous peoples as being resilient and strong. Euro-American colonizers and their descendants sought to rationalize and justify the fulfillment of their “Manifest Destiny” by creating and articulating dehumanizing stereotypes and myths that branded Indians as inferior, fierce savages who lusted uncontrollably for the blood of innocent white women and children.

White Americans concocted and used (racial slurs) in public and private discourses to denigrate and justify the mistreatment of Indians. For instance, Thomas Jefferson’s use of the words “merciless Indian savages” in the Declaration of Independence illustrates the pervasiveness of this disparaging term. This language of Indian inferiority and white superiority gave rise to a history of United States laws and policies designed to “kill the savage but save the man.” Serial acts of violence and coercive assimilation left unoffending Indian nations and peoples in a state of abject poverty, poor health and political subjugation for more than half a century. The theme of civilization's triumph over savagery remains a prevalent theme in U.S. history.

Q: The Washington Post conducted a 2016 survey of Native Americans and found that 9 out of 10 did not find the nickname offensive, insinuating that this is a case of fake outrage spurred by the media. If Native Americans don’t find it offensive, then why should the rest of the public?

A: Two methodologically flawed telephone surveys, the 2004 Annenberg survey and the 2016 Washington Post survey, purport that the vast majority of Indian respondents do not find the Washington’s team name to be offensive or are not bothered by the moniker. These surveys erred by relying on a single question to people who identified themselves as American Indians or Native Americans. They also asked a single question without regard for the best social science methodologies of considering nuances of opinion.

While a few schools in Indian country have Indian-themed team names and a minority of Indians do not find those team names to be offensive, it is a stretch to say that the two surveys accurately captured the full extent of Indian opposition to the Washington team name. A 2018 study found that four out of five Indians who participated in focus group discussions expressed their opposition to mascots. It should be also noted that a 1963 study of the students at Haskell Institute, now Haskell Indian Nations University, found that almost all of them resented being called (the term).

Q: Part of the reluctance of changing a name has to do with team history and branding. Some have said that when the NBA’s Washington Bullets changed their name in the 1990s, it harmed their franchise in terms of money, branding and loyalty. How do you get an owner to overcome those fears?

A: It is questionable if changing the name of the Washington Bullets to the Wizards actually resulted in the loss of money, branding and loyalty for the team. In 1997, team owner Abe Pollin took the moral high road when he changed the team’s name because he saw an epidemic of violence linked to guns and bullets in Washington and elsewhere. The 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Pollin’s close friend, also influenced his decision.

The decline of the team’s quality of play mostly likely led to the team’s declining attendance and financial problems. Putting winning teams on the court and fields is the best solution for economic success in sports.

Q: In the case of the Washington football team, the Supreme Court ruled that a trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes on free speech rights. So if a team or owner doesn’t want to voluntarily change the name, what other methods can be used to get them to change the name?

A: The facts in Matal v. Tam differ from those in Pro-Football Inc. v. Blackhorse. In Tam, an Asian-American rock band filed suit against the decision that the Trademark Office had violated its freedom of expression by disallowing the band’s attempt to trademark the name of The Slants. The Trademark Office made its holding on the grounds that the band’s name was disparaging to people of Asian descent. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held in favor of Tam declaring that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act violated the band’s freedom of speech and the U.S. Constitution. It must be noted, however, that Tam involves a matter of self-expression while Blackhorse represents a challenge to a non-Indian team’s use of a name disparaging to many Indians.  

As a result of Tam holding, the Blackhorse case, which sought to remove federal trademark protection for the offensive team name, has been dropped. Yet, many Indians still see the name of the Washington team as racist and offensive. They will undoubtedly continue their protests in hopes of swaying public opinion to pressure the team to change its name.

Q: The Cleveland Indians baseball team recently announced that they will no longer display the controversial Chief Wahoo logo as part of their 2019 uniform, but are keeping the name. In this case, is this a victory?

A: American Indians and others have been protesting the Cleveland baseball team since the 1970s because its Chief Wahoo logo is seen as an offensive caricature and because the team’s name encourages fans to make a mockery out of Indian culture. The team’s recent decision to no longer display its controversial logo on team uniforms and stadium signs is only a partial victory. The team has retained its license to sell merchandise with the Chief Wahoo logo. Most likely, the offensive behavior of fans will continue unabated. Such is the nature of sports fan behavior in America.

Q: What’s the future look like for this issue? 

A: As noted, the movement against offensive and disparaging names, symbols and mascots in sports has made substantial progress. It has encouraged many schools, colleges and universities to change their names and drop offensive mascots. Numerous leading Indian and non-Indian organizations have spoken out against this problem in sobering terms, showing that offensive sports pageantry not only has harmful consequences on the self-esteem of Indians but also intensifies prejudicial attitudes towards Indians. Thus, it is very likely that the struggle may continue for years to come. 

Top photo: Florida State University Seminoles mascots Osceola and Renegade, who represent the historical leader Osceola and his Appaloosa horse. The two introduce home football games by riding to midfield with a burning spear and planting it into the turf. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has approved this portrayal of Osceola by FSU. Courtesy of Wikipedia 

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Dream Warriors descend on Tempe with 'Heal It Tour'

September 4, 2018

National tour coincides with ASU milestone for record number of Native students

With its emerging skyline, newly renovated stadium and continual growth, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Arizona State University’s Tempe campus sits on the ancestral homelands of American Indian tribes, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) peoples.

But part of the university's growth is reflected in the record amount of indigenous students enrolled, a fact that will be celebrated with music performances, workshops, conversations and panel discussions this week.

Poetry Across the Nations, a national Native reading series, is collaborating with the American Indian Council, the Center for Indian Education and [archi]TEXTS to bring Dream Warriors, a collective of Native American artists, to ASU's Tempe campus to kick off their national “Heal It Tour." Their Sept. 6-7 appearance includes two days of sharing, self-empowerment and healing.

“ASU is a Native space, even though it doesn’t always seem this way,” said Natalie Diaz, an associate professor in ASU’s Department of English and a renowned poet, who founded both Poetry Across the Nations and [archi]TEXTS. “As I have made ASU my new home, my priority is to find ways to connect our Native students and artists to the work of other people like them, to show them what is possible, and what Native students and artists are capable of. It’s a no-brainer to invite the Dream Warriors to ASU."

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Hip-hop artist and Rosebud Sioux Tribe member Frank Waln will be visiting ASU's Tempe campus on Sept. 6-7 as part of the Dream Warriors national tour.

The Dream Warriors consist of artists Frank Waln, Tall Paul, Mic Jordan, Tanaya Winder and Lyla June. Together they will speak, perform and teach self-empowerment to help others find healthy outlets to address personal, historical, ancestral and intergenerational traumas through art and discussions. Award-winning indigenous playwright Larissa Fasthorse and ASU’s Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy will join the conversation.

“Our message to Native students has been very clearly 'You belong here!' Our work with the Dream Warriors is another way that we are striving to make ASU a place where students feel like they belong," said Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. "These incredible artists bring messages of hope, accomplishment and inclusion. In many ways, they are perfect representatives for the work of ASU. I am, personally, a huge fan of them; being able to share them with the ASU community is a gift to us all.”

Native college students are in a stage of life where they are trying to find purpose, often times in an education system that lacks awareness of Native needs, said June, a singer, multi-instrumentalist and motivational speaker who holds a master’s degree in English from Stanford University.

“I talk a lot about helping them navigate that system,” June said. “I try and remind them that their ancestral epistemology and ancestral curriculum is just as important as the Western curriculum, and they need to hold onto that to find their true purpose."

June, who is both Diné and Cheyenne, said the goal of many indigenous societies is to improve the larger community.

“A lot of my music is to be a good relative to the rest of humanity,” she said. “To me, that means helping people to heal.”

Some of the topics that will be broached include indigenous masculinity, gender identity, art, traditions, community, healing and “all of the ways we move in the world,” Diaz said.

Healing can come in many forms, including music, said hip-hop artist Waln, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota.

“The Native artists who are successful are able to articulate a truth beyond tribal boundaries,” Waln said. “As indigenous people, we deserve to be healthy, happy, respected and successful in places such as academia, which traditionally aren’t made for us.”

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Dream Warrior organizer and indigenous artist Tanaya Winder will perform, sing and speak to Native American students on the national "Heal It Tour."

The tour coincides with the news that ASU now has cracked the 3,000 markThe 3,000+ count for Fall 2018 is based on students self-identifying solely as American Indian or in addition to another race/ethnicity. Last year 2,812 self-identified as Native Americans. That number has increased to 3,009, which is a preliminary number based on the first day of class. The number won't become official until the 21st day of class, according to the Office of Institutional Analysis. for American Indian enrolled students at the university, an increase of 7 percent from last year. The number represents approximately 2.7 percent of the university’s total student body, according to ASU's Office of Institutional Analysis.

“There are a number of deans, faculty, staff, alums, tribes, donors and students that deserve credit helping us consistently grow these numbers,” said Jacob C. Moore, associate vice president of tribal relations in the Office of Government and Community Engagement. “Even though this is a significant accomplishment, we now have a duty to support each student’s academic success.”

One Dream Warrior said the milestone is reason enough for celebration.

“Reaching the 3,000 mark is amazing. It’s awesome,” Winder said. “The more representation, the more access we have and the more support we get helps set us up to pursue what makes us happy. I love seeing a major institution reaching that milestone.”

Dream Warriors Tour

All events of the Heal It Tour are free. 

  • 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 6 — “Reimagining Indigenous Identities and Relationships. Conversations with Dream Warriors." Student Pavilion, Senita A. 
  • 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 — Poetry and Songwriting Workshop with Dream Warriors. The Secret Garden, West 135.
  • 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 — Poetry Across the Nations Presents: A Performance by Dream Warriors. Memorial Union, Pima Auditorium.

Photos courtesy of Magnus, @gelfie_ant

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Working to protect endangered languages

There are only about 15 speakers of the Maricopa language left.
A language is endangered when children are no longer learning it.
August 28, 2018

Internship teaches ASU students the skills of language documentation; group works with Native communities to maintain languages

Editor's note: Explicit verbal permission was given by Louise Wilson to publish photos depicting the Gitksan language.

This summer, when Peru made its first appearance at the World Cup since 1982, a daily sports program host decided to broadcast coverage of the event in Quechua, one of the country’s Native languages, spoken by their Incan ancestors. The New York Times called it “the latest move to keep a fading oral tradition alive.”

Across the globe, but especially in North America, indigenous languages are becoming critically endangered.

“Of the hundreds of indigenous languages spoken in North America, maybe a dozen or so will still have native speakers by the time our lives are over,” said Tyler Peterson, ASU assistant professor of English.

Generally, a language is considered to be endangered when children are no longer acquiring it.

“Language loss,” Peterson said, “is often coextensive with cultural loss, and these cultures have been decimated throughout the centuries through colonization.”

Peterson, a linguist, came to ASU in January but has been working with Native American communities across the American Southwest to help document, revitalize and maintain their languages since he came to the region about five years ago. During the spring 2018 semester, he invited students to participate in an internship where he introduced them to the scientific methodology that entails. By the summer, students were able to venture out into local Native communities and apply that knowledge firsthand.

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Tyler Peterson. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“This internship was profoundly enlightening for me,” said Rickah Dillard, who graduated in May and began her master’s degree in applied linguistics this fall. Over the summer, she worked alongside Peterson to conduct a two-week language-teacher training workshop with members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

Born and raised in northern Canada, Peterson, who is of European descent, grew up surrounded by the language and culture of the Gitksan, indigenous peoples whose home territory covers roughly 20,000 square miles to the east of the Alaskan panhandle.

“Growing up, my classmates and neighbors were indigenous people, which is also a familiar thing in Arizona,” he said.

That history and a natural love of language steered him toward the field of linguistics. At the University of Arizona’s American Indian Language Development Institute, Peterson began working with local tribes — including the Gila River Indian Community, the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Colorado River Indian Tribe in western Arizona — conducting workshops to train community language activists in indigenously-informed language documentation practices. Some of that work is supported by a National Science Foundation grant. After a brief stint at the University of Auckland, where he studied Cook Islands MāoriA Polynesian language spoken on a remote South Pacific island., he returned to the Southwest to continue developing the relationships he had already established in an area of the world he felt it was most needed.

“Navajo has tens of thousands of speakers,” he said. “So you might reasonably think the language is doing OK. But in fact, things are vulnerable for Navajo because the kids aren’t learning the language at an ideal rate to ensure a sustainable future for the language.

Among other indigenous people, such as the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community situation is far more grave. When it comes to the Maricopa language, there are only about 15 speakers left.

“This is not unusual," Peterson said. "It’s striking, but it’s not unusual. With this high degree of urbanization, coupled with the historical traumas of colonization over several decades and even centuries, there are many languages in North America where there are less than 10, or even less than five speakers of many indigenous languages.”

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Louise Wilson, a member of the Gitksan indigenous people of Canada, demonstrates a language point to ASU linguistics students. Photo courtesy of Tyler Peterson

Gitksan, by comparison, has anywhere from 200 to 300 speakers. One of them, Louise Wilson, came to ASU for two weeks during the spring semester to work directly with the students translating a 26-minute interview into English — writing it down, analyzing it and translating it, line by line, word by word, for hours on end.

“It’s an understatement to say they were eager and enthusiastic. They were fearless and gained confidence with every encounter in the two short weeks we spent together,” Wilson said.

Before that, students had spent four weeks learning the ins and outs of language-documentation methodology. They learned how to ask meaningful questions and use certain skills and tools to record languages that only a small number of people speak and that often aren’t written down — or, if documents do exist, are of varying quality.

“That’s a major responsibility, to document an endangered language,” Peterson said.

Students trained in how to use such tools as recording devices and transcription software, and how to navigate unfamiliar grammatical structures and sounds that don’t occur in English. They also learned how to document the meaning of words that have no concrete definition. A question Peterson likes to ask of his students to demonstrate that notion is the meaning of the word “the.”

“Everybody knows what that word is; it’s probably the most frequently used word in English,” he said.

But it’s not the same as giving the definition of something concrete, like "chair."

“That’s where things get tricky and you have to apply a very rigorous methodology in order to document meanings of things that you can’t ask direct questions about.”

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ASU English Assistant Professor Tyler Peterson (left) and native Gitksan speaker Louise Wilson hold up T-shirts that say, "Team Axdiixbits’axw," which translates to "Team Fearless." Photo courtesy of Tyler Peterson

The relatively short amount of time it takes to acquire the basic skills needed for language documentation means students can get out into the community and put those skills to work quickly.

“One of ASU’s aspirational goals is to engage with the local communities and put our expertise and the university's resources in the service of our neighbors,” Peterson said. “And the local communities include the indigenous people, the tribal people who live in this area.”

On the first day of classes in the spring semester, he was surprised when he asked his linguistics students what the local language is and confusion ensued. Then he explained that it is MaricopaMaricopa people refer to their language as "Piipaash.", the same name of the county they’re in and of the people who live within a 5-mile radius of the campus they’re on.

He hopes that sharing and involving ASU undergrads in the work and research he does with those communities outside of class will help to raise that awareness. And though he says those workshops and training sessions are just “a little tiny piece” of the effort it will take to maintain and revitalize indigenous languages, it’s more about spreading the attitude that it matters.

“Beyond just communication, the transmission of ideas, language transmits culture and can even teach us about how the brain works,” Peterson said, referring to the field of neurolinguistics, which explores the relationship between language and the structure and functioning of the brain.

“If you think of what language does, it’s arguably the most important thing we do as humans,” he said. “It defines us.”

Top photo: A student in Tyler Peterson's indigenous language internship transcribes a recording of Gitksan, an indigenous language of Canada. Photo courtesy of Tyler Peterson