October 10: Indigenous Maps, Spatial Ontologies + Epistemologies

Teozacoalco, 1580, via University of Texas at Austin

PLEASE NOTE that today was originally dedicated to our Critical Cartography lesson; we’ve swapped our October 10 and October 17 lessons so we can accommodate today’s guest speaker. 

Guest: 4-5pm: Amir Sheikh, ORISE Research Fellow, US Forest Service Environmental Anthropologist, University of Washington

Cempoala, 1580, Benson Latin American Collection, UT Austin.


Nabil Ahmed, “Land Rights: Counter-Mapping West Papua,” continent. 4:4 (2015); *Sunitha Chari, “Mapping Back: A Workshop on Counter Mapping Resource Conflicts on Indigenous Homelands,” Transformations to Sustainability (December 4, 2017); Decolonial Atlas; Ceridwen Dovey, “The Mapping of Massacres,” The New Yorker (December 6, 2017); Gwilyn Lucas Eades, Maps and Memes: Redrawing Culture, Place, and Identity in Indigenous Communities (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015); Julianna A. Hazlewood and the Communities of La Chiquita and Guadualito, “Court Issues Ruling in World’s First ‘Rights of Nature’ Lawsuit,” Intercontinental Cry (February 16, 2017); History of Cartography Volume 2: three volumes on traditional cartographies; Dallas Hunt and Shaun A. Stevenson, “Decolonizing Geographies of Power: Indigenous Digital Counter-Mapping Practices on Turtle Island,” Settler Colonial Studies (2016); Mishuana Goeman, Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013); Illinois State Museum, Native American Mapping Traditions; Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016); G. Malcolm Lewis, Ed., Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Map Use (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Renee Pualani Lois, with Moana Kahele, Kanaka Hawai’I Cartography: Hula, Navigation, and Oratory (Portland: Oregon State University, 2017); *Rachel Olson, Jeffrey Hackett & Steven DeRoy, “Mapping the Digital Terrain: Towards Indigenous Geographic Information and Spatial Data Quality Indicators for Indigenous Knowledge and Traditional Land-Use Data Collection,” The Cartographic Journal 53:4 (2016); Gina Dawn Richard, “Radical Cartographies: Relational Epistemologies and Principles for Successful Indigenous Cartographic Praxis,” Dissertation, University of Arizona, 2015; Eva Salinas, with Sébastien Caquard, “The Politics of Making Maps,” Canadian International Council (November 12, 2014); Teresa Scassa, Nate J. Engler & D.R. Fraser Taylor, “Legal Issues in Mapping Traditional Knowledge: Cartography in the Canadian North,” The Cartographic Journal 52:1 (2015): 41-50; “Singing the Country to Life,” ABC (July 3, 2016); Jota Stamper, “Toward an Epistemology of the Form of the Informal City: Mapping the Process of Informal City-Making,” Informal Settlements Research ISR (July 7, 2012); Sam Sturgis, “Kids in India are Sparking Urban Planning Changes by Mapping Slums,” The Atlantic’s CityLab (February 19, 2015); UCLA, Mapping Indigenous LA; Helen Watson, “Aboriginal-Australian Maps,” Maps Are Territories; Jeffrey Yoo Warren, “Grassroots Mapping: Tools for Participatory and Activist Cartography,” Masters Thesis, MIT, 2010; Margaret Wickens Pearce, “The Last Piece Is You,” The Cartographic Journal 51:2 (2014): 107-22; Denis Wood, “The Outside Critique: Indigenous Mapping” In Rethinking the Power of Maps (New York: Guilford Press, 2010): 129-142.

8 Replies

  • How do minority epistemologies, that is ways of knowing the world, negotiate the eroding of differences that the visual interface of GIS demands? What gets lost in translation and how can we preserve those residues? For while the technology is like an electric saw that wants to trim and mold the “object” in front of it, the indigenous people and minority groups interviewed in the pieces recognized this tension thus challenging that technology dominates epistemologies similar to a superstructure. Rather it was emphasized how knowledge is embodied through practice. I think it is important to not only demand that “other” ways of knowing the world need to be represented but also how to nudge “our” (assuming we in this classroom are Western indoctrinated google maps people) perception. Can we find new epistemologies through re-mapping our reality that actually are embodied but have been silenced?

    • Excellent questions, Ella. How might we modify our use of dominant mapping technologies by heeding indigenous spatialities — or how might we *supplement* those entrenched methods with other more performative modes of capturing space?

  • I was particularly struck by the “Mapping Indigenous Depth of Place” article by Margaret Wickens Pearce and Renee Pualani. In the section about what differs between indigenous and western mapping, I was drawn to the emphasis on the body’s experience of space as a key component of many indigenous mapping techniques. This immediately reminded me of emotion mapping, which I was pleased to see later mentioned in Mei-Po Kwan’s research (and I look forward to looking more into her work). Especially in my area of interest, emotion mapping is often the only data available for the body’s lived experience. I’ve been grappling with trying to figure out a more quantitative approach to my topic, but is this just me trying to conform to western standards? I deeply respect these indigenous forms of mapping and agree we (as westerners) have a lot to learn from them, but why do I feel like it’s not enough? How can we as students push back on these standards of academia?

    • I really appreciate this introspection, Alie. You’re completely right that your own self-imposed standards are largely informed by dominant technologies and institutions, which establish particular standards of verifiability and certainty (what counts as a fact? what passes as permissible evidence in a court of law?). I’d love to talk in class today about what it means to do “enough” — and what values are embedded in that “enoughness” 🙂

  • In thinking about maps as processual, I find Gonzàlez Vivo and Lowe’s question “What could a map be?” quite generative: who/what do we become, and who/what do our maps become, through our constant encounter-in-motion with the world that forms and shifts our maps? How does performative and experiential modes of mapping disturb the boundaries between the observer and the object not only physically and temporally but also categorically and ontologically?
    Poggiali talks about how digital mapmaking cultivates “aspirational identities (390)” in discussing the interrelatedness between mapmaking and the production of personhood. But whose aspirations are cultivated through digital mapmaking? When incommensurable aspirations collide through mapmaking, what new forms of being-in-the-world are produced? What to think about the asymmetrical power balance between different epistemologies and ontologies involved? Perhaps the question we need to ask regarding the translatability of indigenous spatial attunements are about the hybridity that arise from the failure in translation.

  • I’m glad you’re asking these big, ontological questions about not only what a *map* can be, but also what the “worlds” it represents can be, and who *we* can be, as we see ourselves reflected in those maps. You, Ella and Alie are all asking provocative questions about the (potentially productive) tensions between different cartographic “aspirational identities” and epistemologies. This will be a great topic for conversation today.

  • The podcast http://outsideinradio.org/powerline/ talks about the legal and public fights about use of space and who it for (between the provincial government, companies and the First Nations).

    The Welikia Project (https://welikia.org/m-map.php) has a map of Manhattan, comparing 1609 and 2009, similar to Amir Sheikh’s work. While this is a project of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the information about the Lenape is so much less detailed than the information about the wildlife.

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