Linguist honoured for work with Salish communities


- Philip Cox

Czaykowska-Higgins. Photo: Philip Cox

UVic linguist Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins has spent the majority of her decades-long career in collaborative, community-based work in Indigenous language documentation, maintenance and revitalization with Salish communities, effecting lasting change in the field of linguistics in the process.

For her leadership and lifelong commitment to community-engaged language research, she has been honoured with the 2021 Paz Buttedahl Career Achievement Award from the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC (CUFA-BC). 

“CUFA-BC represents more than 5,500 academics from the province’s five research universities,” says Faculty of Humanities Associate Dean of Research Alex D’Arcy. “The Paz Buttedahl award reflects the integral connections at the heart of Dr. Czaykowska-Higgins’ tremendous academic achievements and her deep-seated commitment to community partnerships.”

Throughout the 2000s, Czaykowska-Higgins has worked closely and collaboratively with members of the Nxaʔamxčín-speaking community in Washington State, and the Hul’q’umi’num’- and SENĆOŦEN-speaking communities of southern Vancouver Island.

In 2002, she and Dr. J,SIṈTEN John Elliott Sr. initiated the ground-breaking Language Revitalization in Vancouver Island Salish Communities project, which was funded by an early SSHRC-CRSH Humanities Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grant, in partnership with the Saanich Native Heritage Society, the Hul'q'umi'num' Treaty Group, the First Peoples' Cultural Foundation, the First Peoples’ Language and Culture Council, and UVic’s linguistics department. During the six-year-long project, which was steered by several Elders’ committees, she served as principal investigator and director, working with a 100-member team to develop infrastructure and research that would facilitate and support the revitalization of the SENĆOŦEN and Hul’q’umi’num’ languages.

These experiences informed her seminal, paradigm-shifting 2009 article "Research models, community engagement, and linguistic fieldwork: Reflections on working within Canadian Indigenous communities," which had a major influence on the trajectory of research in her field by defining and arguing for Community-Based Language Research as a model for linguists in North America and beyond.

Dr. Czaykowska-Higgins has had a transformative impact on linguistics, informing not only theory but, perhaps more importantly, how linguists reflect on the ways in which they do their work and the ethical implications and responsibilities that infuse that work with meaning.”

—Alex D’Arcy, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Humanities 

Throughout her extensive career, Czaykowska-Higgins has remained an active and engaged writer and researcher, regularly publishing in scholarly journals and books, and contributing papers, chapters, research reports and conference presentations.

Her contributions to public scholarship also include initiatives such as the Nxaʔamxčín language database and legacy dictionary, an online dictionary with 13,500 entries complimented by a 1,300 page digital document that was produced in partnership with the Nxaʔamxčín Language Program of Colville Tribes and a team of UVic researchers in response to community-identified needs.

Currently Czaykowska-Higgins is working with the WSÁNEĆ School Board on ÁȽȻEȽ SĆȺ: "Heading Out to Sea", a project which digitizes, archives and mobilizes the works of the late PENAĆ LE Dave Elliot, creator of the SENĆOŦEN orthography, for use by SENĆOŦEN immersion teachers and others interested in the language.

I know from personal conversations that Ewa was handpicked to do this most important work — ṈEN SĆȺ. Our team of SENĆOŦEN immersion teachers eagerly look forward to the results it will produce. Ewa has the trust of our community, and we continue to be excited at the opportunity to work with the knowledge of our Elders and ancestors, and to our continued partnership with Ewa and the University of Victoria.

—Tye Swallow, Director and Facilitator of Language Revitalization, WSÁNEĆ School Board. 

At UVic, she has played a significant role in the development and delivery of the University’s undergraduate and graduate Indigenous Language Revitalization programs. This includes the co-founding of the award-winning Certificate in Indigenous Language Revitalization (CILR) program, which is organized by the department of Linguistics and Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with the En’owkin Centre and offered nationally through community-based partnerships. She recently served as Graduate Advisor for the Master's in Indigenous Language Revitalization (MILR), a unique program situated in Indigenous Education and offered through a partnership with Linguistics, which has graduated more than 50 Indigenous students since its inception in 2012.

I am honoured and humbled to receive this CUFA-BC award. It is particularly humbling to be recognized at this time of grieving when Canada is having to confront the horrendous crimes of the Residential School system. Although the award singles me out, it is really a recognition of the value of collaborative work and collective practice. For me, truly collaborative work conducted in Indigenous spaces, led by and for Indigenous communities through strong respectful and reciprocal relationships, has been a joy and a privilege to be able to participate in. Such work raises up all who are involved." 

Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins, Professor of Linguistics and recipient of the 2021 Buttedahl Career Achievement Award



In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, languages and linguistics, community, award, partnerships

People: Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins

Publication: The Ring

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