Kin-Centric Circles: Reimagining Native Land and Language Reclamation as Cycles of Renewal and Relationality
Bri Alexander

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Primary Discipline

For various social and political reasons, Native American communities engage in land and language reclamation projects across space and time. Whereas much scholarship circulates narratives of reclamation as processes to reverse loss and theft, this project instead imagines reclamation as cycles of renewal and relationality occurring on Native timing and by Native volition regardless of colonial attempts to dispossess and disinherit Natives of land and language. Centering Shawnee knowledge and histories through knowledge-shares with Shawnee citizens across all federally- and tribally-recognized Shawnee bands, this multi-sited (Serpent Mound, Ohio; Johnson County, Kansas; northeastern Oklahoma, and online), mixed methods (online surveys, semi-structured interviews, autoethnography, participant observation, and archives) ethnography asks what Shawnee reclamation/renewal projects say about place, kinship, and relating. It is clear that Shawnees are increasingly investing in opportunities for language learning and land reclamation projects, but what do language learning contexts and land rights have in common? This research, set largely in language classes, ceremonies, community events, and tribal department meetings, argues that land and language are not just resources or tools but are impetuses for relationality between Shawnees and the world at large, able to transform social and political relations via rituals and ceremonies of kinship that are not necessarily based on nationality, race, or place of origin. These created circles of kinship, or what I call kin-centric circles, overlap across identity categories and ultimately exist outside of colonial bounds and logics. Land-as-relation and language-as-relation, then, offer an anti-colonial, Native perspective on social orderings through shared space and tongues.
About Bri Alexander
Bri Alexander (Shawnee Tribe, Cherokee Nation) is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistic Anthropology at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. Her anthro-political linguistic research, developed and carried out in collaboration with her Native Nations, is personal, familial, and communal. Her dissertation research, funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, reimagines Shawnee land and language reclamation projects in Shawnee terms: as cycles of perpetual renewal and relationality instead of responses or reactions to political and social climates/events. Ultimately, her work challenges various normalized conventions in academia by engaging deeply with Indigenous Knowledge Systems and centering Indigenous concepts, perspectives, and histories across research design, practice, and write-up. With an M.A. in Native American Linguistics from the University of Arizona, she is passionate about language learning, land-based pedagogy, the health benefits of language and culture, and cultural education for Native American/American Indian/Indigenous communities. She has shared her knowledge in various capacities, from lecturing and teaching university courses to building interactive games for children. Most recently, she has joined the Digital Archive of Indigenous Language Persistence team as a Research Associate and she continues as a Curriculum Developer for both her tribal Nations. Outside of language activism, she enjoys beadworking, communing with plant kin, trying new food, and visiting with community.

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