"These Songs will Save our Language": Reclaiming Kiowa Language and Music through Kiowa Sound Resurgence

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This dissertation examines the intersection of Indigenous language reclamation and music, primarily among the Kiowa Tribe. Through multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, music/language analysis, and participatory action research, I show how music plays a key role in the resurgence of Kiowa language and identity. I begin in Washington, D.C. by revealing how Kiowas (and other Indigenous Peoples) strategically use their own modes of storytelling and music making to resist the imposition of settler colonial narratives. Indigenous performers reclaim stories about their language initiatives and challenge problematic congressional language planning and policy. The dissertation then moves towards Oklahoma and examines the language efforts of a community-based institution: the Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program (KLCRP). I show how KLCRP used Kiowa Christian hymns—which are performed in the Kiowa language and musical style— as a pedagogical approach to revive and strengthen forms of Kiowa sound and audibility, including speech, music making, storytelling, and listening. I frame the recovery of these practices as Kiowa sound resurgence. I explore the multiple ways in which Kiowas engaged in Kiowa sound resurgence through traditional and non-traditional pedagogies before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This dissertation contributes to interdisciplinary dialogues in ethnomusicology, Native American and Indigenous studies, and linguistic anthropology on Indigenous language reclamation and music scholarship. The case study of Kiowa sound resurgence illuminates how Kiowas creatively reclaim, revive, and resurge sound through Kiowa ways of knowing, doing, and being. The findings of this dissertation have relevance to both academia and Indigenous communities who are actively engaging in efforts of cultural reclamation and resurgence.