Currently my research focuses on interrelated themes of conservation and environmental governance, indigenous identity and human rights, and collaboration.  I have been fortunate to have researched in Panama for over sixteen years, and as a result I have a number of on-going research projects that address the aforementioned themes, and also overlap.  Below are descriptions of on-going research


Documenting Wounaan meu, Proyecto Tradición Oral Wounaan  


I am coordinating a collaborative project with Wounaan leaders, Wounaan language experts, and anthropologists and linguists to linguistically describe the Wounaan language based on a corpus of sixty years of audio recordings of Wounaan oral traditions (including those I recorded in the early 2000s).   The project, known in Spanish as Proyecto Tradición Oral Wounaan, is archiving the recordings, transcribing and translating the stories, developing a Wounaan meu grammar and Wounaan meu - Spanish dictionary, and developing curricular materials from the stories in coordination with Panama's National Directorate for Bilingual Intercultural Education.  A Wounaan team of language experts (Toño Peña Conquista, Chindío Peña Ismare,  Tonny Membora Peña, Doris Cheucarama Membache, and Chivio Membora Peña) is working full time on the transcription and translation of recordings, based in the offices of the Foundation for the Development of Wounaan People (Fundación para el Desarrollo del Pueblo Wounaan, FUNDEPW) in Panama City, Panama.  Their work is facilitated by administrator H. Roy Teucama Barrigon and leadership from FUNDEPW VIce President Chenier Carpio Opua.   Linguist Ron Binder (independent), and linguistics & anthropology graduate student Bryan James Gordon (University of Arizona) are heading up linguistics analyses in coordination with anthropologist Liz Lapovsky Kennedy and me.  This research is funded by the National Science Foundation's Documenting Endangered Languages grant #0966520 (UGA) and #0966046 (UA).  (Photo: Initial project design meeting, July 2008.)

Land rights, conservation, and territoriality 

Land Rights

Since the late 1990s I have been researching collective land rights and environmental governance in eastern Panama.  This work has changed dramatically as the result of government and global interest in REDD+, since Panama’s indigenous populations hold much of the country’s remaining forest stocks.  In February, 2013 all of Panama’s indigenous groups pulled out of the UN-mediated REDD+ negotiations.  I am working on a manuscript about the history of the collective lands struggle, its relationships to forest governance via REDD+, and how Wounaan are resisting external governance of their forests and lands.  I also doing additional work  focused on territoriality, the process of claiming land, by illustrating the decreasing area in Emberá and Wounaan collective lands since the struggle began.  (Photo: Land rights press conference by the four Emberá and Wounaan chiefs, February 2012.)

Crafting collaboration


I have begun to write about the process of collaborative research and how it relates to scholarship.  In the above language project Chenier Carpio Opua (as named by FUNDEPW) and I are working on a presentation and subsequent manuscript about our experiences crafting a collaborative language documentation project.  (Photo: With Wounaan colleagues, Professor Oberly, TAs, and classmates in the Introduction to Native American Linguistics course at the University of Arizona's American Indian Language Development Institute, June 2012.)

Wounaan ethnohistory


Wounaan language and cultural experts Chindío Peña Ismare and Toño Peña Conquista and I have drafted a manuscript on Wounaan ethnohistory.  This manuscript combines Wounaan oral traditions, historic ethnographic data, and recent histories of Wounaan in Panama and Colombia. (Photo: Partial view of one of the larger Wounaan villages of eastern Panama, 2004.)


Silversmithing, ethnic identity, and inter-ethnic relations


I have an on-going, long-term project on silversmithing traditions in eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia.  I am particularly interested in how those traditions help mediate inter-ethnic relationships among black silversmiths, indigenous silversmiths, and indigenous clients, as well as how they relate to notions of intellectual property.  As part of this work Wounaan colleagues and I are learning to silversmith under the guidance of eastern Panama's last traditional black silversmith (who is now retired). (Photo: Forms for traditional indigenous earrings, held by the black silversmith who made them, 2006.)