Indigenous peoples, in Oregon and beyond, are decolonizing maps

11.28.2020 By: Tiffany Camhi (OPB), Jenn Chávez (OPB) and Crystal Ligori (OPB)

‘Maps can tell the tribal story, not just that of the conquerors.’

The creation and use of maps dates back to the prehistoric ages. One of the first known maps was carved onto a mammoth tusk, depicting the hunting landscape of the Czech Republic’s Pavlov Hills.

But in more recent history, Western mapmaking has largely focused on demonstrating property ownership and reinforcing power structures. That has led to the widespread erasure of Indigenous people from their traditional lands.

Now, Indigenous cartographers are actively working to counter that erasure by decolonizing maps.

“The cartographies of empire have been instrumental in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples of the lands they have called home since time immemorial,” reads a recent essay in the journal “Cartographica.”

Natchee Barnd, an associate professor of ethnic studies at Oregon State University, co-wrote the essay. It introduces a collection highlighting Indigenous map work being done in North America and elsewhere.

In Oregon, “The reason why Lewis and Clark are known, and the thing that we celebrate them for, was [mapping] out those territories they were claiming and preparing to claim, and then were going to … exploit and settle and farm and build on,” Barnd said.

“There’s an inherent sort of coloniality in that: that you have already conceived of and are preparing to enact, through mapping largely, your next steps toward dispossession and occupation of the land.”

But drawing on ancestral knowledge and mapping practices, and lifting up the stories and needs of modern tribal communities, centers Indigenous people in that geography.

“Maps can tell the tribal story, not just that of the conquerors,” said David Harrelson, head of the Cultural Resources Department with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde. Harrelson recently talked with OPB’s “All Things Considered” about how Indigenous groups in Oregon are... Read the entire article here.