ASU Difference Maker brings positive impact to university, indigenous communities

Professor K. Tsianina Lomawaima listens as cohort member Porter Swentzell presents the defense of his dissertation.

Professor K. Tsianina Lomawaima, pictured listening to a dissertation defense last month, has been awarded the Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award.


Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is proud to announce K. Tsianina Lomawaima as this year’s Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award winner.

The annual award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of ASU to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of the college.

Lomawaima (Mvskoke / Creek Nation, not enrolled) joined ASU in January 2014 as a professor in the School of Social Transformation and Center for Indian Education. She is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work covers indigenous studies, anthropology, education, ethnohistory, history, legal analysis and political science.

Though her work covers many areas, Lomawaima has defined herself as an indigenous studies scholar since she made the switch from an anthropology department at the University of Washington to an American Indians Studies program at the University of Arizona in 1994.

“That was a liberating moment for me, to realize I’m aware of what I want to be which is to say: I’m an indigenous studies scholar. I don’t define myself as an anthropologist, I don’t define myself as a historian ... although I do that work, I define myself as an indigenous studies scholar. That was a wonderful moment,” Lomawaima said.

Lomawaima is a prominent American Indian academic and author; her research includes the status of Native people as U.S. citizens and Native nations as indigenous sovereigns, the role of Native nations in shaping U.S. federalism, and the history of American Indian education.

Her first dissertation project and book, “They Called it Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School” focused on the history of the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, one of the federal off-reservation boarding schools. She interviewed 60 students of the school, including her father who was removed from his mother by court order in 1927 and sent to the school for the majority of his childhood, until 1935.

“My most recent project is looking at the early 20th century conversations and debates in the U.S. about U.S. citizenship. The late 19th century is really when those conversations came to a head after the civil war, after reconstruction, all of a sudden the U.S. has to deal with emancipation, enfranchised African American voters. That really raises the question, what does citizenship really mean? It was taken for granted before that it was property [owning], white males and now that radically shifted.”  

This upcoming academic year, Lomawaima is taking a research leave and research fellowship at the Clements Center for Southwest History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas to focus on her scholarly work. She’s currently working on two books and says as much as she loves it, a year without teaching nor administrative responsibilities will allow her more time for research and writing.

“I’m enthusiastic and hopeful that I can — at the very least — get a good chunk of the citizenship book finished if not in really good shape. And then I have a second book project that’s more focused on what was happening in Indian Country in that 20th century moment as a follow up.”

Though she says her research on schooling and Indian Country has been fairly widely read, she believes her largest scholarly impact has been helping to found the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association in 2007.

“[The association] is now a very robust international meeting that draws about 1,000 people a year from across the world. That’s really what has enabled the fluoresce of international indigenous studies work is how many of us have come to know one another,” Lomawaima said.

“I think one of the things we’ve seen, in the way research questions are being formulated and the way in which publications are resulting from that and intervention practices, is that we’re seeing international collaborations. ... Anthologies and encyclopedias and handbooks are being published that are not so nationally insular anymore in terms of the authors they draw upon and the perspectives they share,” she said.

In addition to her teaching and research, Lomawaima has distinguished herself as a Difference Maker at ASU. She served for the past three years on the CLAS Dean’s Faculty Advisory Committee, the elected panel of scholars responsible for reviewing all promotion and tenure cases for the college. This role in particular, she said, is one that she enjoyed and learned the most from.

“You learn so much about the phenomenal, inspiring work that people [in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences] are doing. I think it’s fair to say that committee does its work very, very carefully, very scrupulously, with great integrity and you feel like it’s worthwhile work,” she said.

“Dr. Lomawaima has been a thoughtful and powerful voice on this committee,” said Nancy Gonzales, Foundation Professor and associate dean of faculty. “She consistently offered a balanced understanding of the diverse ways in which faculty achieve excellence.”

Throughout her 30 years in academia, Lomawaima has dedicated significant time and energy to program building and institutional service, so receiving the Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award has been particularly meaningful.

“I really believe in understanding how our institutions work and I don’t know a better way to do that than to participate in the various ways you’re called upon to help out at the college and university level. It’s really quite rare or unexpected or unheard of in my experience for there to be any recognition for that. I’m very touched by this.”

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