Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



For over 1.9 million indigenous people in the United States, speaking their native language has become a rare opportunity. There are several obstacles standing in their way, from geographically separated communities to hundreds of years of contrarian policies and sometimes a collective lack of interest. Today, indigenous language use has become an integral part of self-determination and political sovereignty, sometimes more so than a communicative activity. This dissertation examines the political steps taken by American Indian communities around the United States to ensure that their languages can still be spoken into the twenty-first century, and analyzes the complex implications of enacting language policy as a political minority. Using a critical framework inspired by Michel Foucault, I establish theoretical bridges between geography, anthropology and linguistics as a basis for the study of language practices. In combination with the geographical concept of site, I aver that language planning serves to build spaces where indigenous populations are able to express their own sense of community and develop their own cultures. The particular legal and political history of American Indians situates them both inside and outside of the mainstream United States population. As a result they have developed a parallel political existence rooted in their intrinsic sovereignty rather than the amount of power delegated to them by the federal government. I argue that although policy seems to be enacted in their favor, American Indians are still facing outdated modes of thinking and suffering from a lack of comprehensive understanding. From a series of interviews with administrators of language programs throughout the United States, I found that the most efficient ways for them to cultivate positive change in their communities and languages is to proceed with their own solutions regardless of the existing legislation. Functioning upon the premise that complexity is a defining element of both language and space, I suggest that ontological approaches provide the most productive approach to studying linguistics and geography, as they rely on practice rather than political paradigms. The concept of site gives way to a more respectful and impactful study of the human aspects of geographic phenomena.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Brody, M. Jill