I am an anthropologist and linguist, and an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia. I am cross-appointed between the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies and the Department of Anthropology.
From 2014-2018, I served as Chair of the First Nations and Endangered Languages Program and from 2016-2018, as Acting Co-Director of the University’s new Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. I am Co-Lead of the UBC Himalaya Program, an Associate Member of the Department of Asian Studies and Affiliated Faculty at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. For academic year 2019-2020, I was a Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC and held a Killam Faculty Research Fellowship. I served as the Founding Program Director of the Yale Himalaya Initiative from 2011-2014.
My research focuses on language reclamation, revitalization, documentation and conservation; language mapping, policies, politics and language rights; orality, archives, digital tools and technology. Indigenous methodologies and decolonial practice inform and shape my teaching and research. For over twenty years, my regional focus has been the Himalayan region (particularly Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan), and more recently, the Pacific Northwest. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in collaborative partnership with members of the Thangmi-speaking communities of eastern Nepal and Darjeeling district in India since 1996, and since 2015 with members of the Heiltsuk First Nation through a Language and Culture Mobilization Partnership in which UBC is a founding member.
I direct two international research initiatives, Digital Himalaya and the World Oral Literature Project, and I edit the Oral Literature Series with the Open Book Publishers. I am also the principal investigator for the Relational Lexicography project through which we are developing a framework and toolkit for collaborative, community-informed dictionary work with marginalized languages. Together with Sienna Craig, from 2013-2017, I edited Himalaya, the longest running, open-access, interdisciplinary and peer-reviewed journal of Himalayan studies. I have had the privilege to design and present two BBC Radio series on language endangerment and policy: Our Language in Your Hands in 2012 and On Language Location in 2014. Both are freely available online. I was one of three principal investigators on a five-year collaborative research project supported by the Arcadia Fund to document and protect Bhutan’s oral traditions, and am a Co-Investigator on a Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada entitled First Nations Languages in the 21st Century: Looking Back, Looking Forward. I also serve as Co-Investigator on an interdisciplinary NASA-funded grant on Urban growth, land-use change, and growing vulnerability in the Greater Himalaya mountain range, entitled ‘Urban Himalaya‘.
I write about language policy, linguistic rights, digital technologies, cultural heritage and mother tongue instruction. I also focus on issues of access and ownership of anthropological materials from ethnographic museums when they circulate online or are returned to communities in digital form. As a firm advocate of collaborative research, I am committed to widening public engagement with anthropology and linguistics. To that end, I am honoured to have supported UBC Language Sciences as a member of the Steering Committee and I served on the first Advisory Board of SAPIENS.