(originally posted on steemit : https://steemit.com/@ofsedgeandsalt)
After reading this piece and watching this video called "Counter Mapping" in Emergence Magazine's online blog, it had me thinking about about the power of naming places. What we choose to call a place in modern times is reflective of who has power and the history of what happened in a place. To not look at why we name things what we do is like not learning from what happened yesterday and acting on it today.
I recommend giving the short video about Jim Enote, a traditional Zuni farmer and director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in New Mexico a watch.
Jim's work to redraw maps of the land to better reflect the Zuni story of place and their relationship to it is an act of renaming and resisting the arbitrary grid that modern colonizers have forced onto his homeland, a place that naturally does not exist this way.
From the Emergence Magazine article:
"If you were to find Jim’s farm on Google Maps, you’d see that his land is bordered by Indian Service Route 2, on the far western edge of the state of New Mexico. But this is not how Jim understands the location of his farm. He knows it in relation to the meandering path of the Zuni River, to its distance from the Grand Canyon, its proximity to the spring that provides essential water to his crops, to Salt Lake, to the Zuni Pueblo, to the memory of his grandfather."
A lot of my writing and drawing work reflects on the grids and maps that especially have been defining places in the western so called United States in modern times. When you travel in the west, you SEE it so much more clearly. Western expansion and 'manifest destiny' mentality have been superimposed ideas on land little understood by the European settlers that sought to 'make their place' in the world by 'God's deliverance.' They did this by taking from the native folks who have lived with the land and had their own maps of place formed over a long period of time. Jim redraws them to reflect the actual experience of the place, where the water is, the river goes, the canyon ends. This re-drawing is also re-claiming the name of place.
Like Jim mentions in the video, mapping by western cartographers onto a land they little understood has been the biggest violence that native folks have been subjected to in the past few hundred years. This forced mapping takes away the value of the place only understood by being on it over time. Now we live in a society that bases everything we know and understand from these maps. One side of the fence belongs to one person, the other side you're not allowed. One side you can drop a nuclear bomb, and the other side is a sacred site. The simple lines could go for miles that colonizers drew, and they seem unimportant and yet somehow they define so much.
I've reflected on how we grid things to try to understand that which we are scared of or don't understand. I've cited this book: "The Void, the Grid and the Sign" by William Fox a few times in my writings because it explores this history of imposing we want to see in the land through mapping, rather than just seeing what is actually there. The mindset of resource extraction also reflects how we name and map places. To grid and sell plots for ranching, mining or nuclear testing breaks up the actual story of the land.
To look from above almost seems robotic sometimes. To see like a bird, but yet be a human, and be able to manipulate who gets to do what on the land, and who belongs there is an odd notion. If you really think about it, what would a map of place really look like if you couldn't see from above? The mapmakers of the past didn't have planes or GPS. Yet, they drawings and impositions made an impact on place that feels immeasurable. But not to say that indigenous folks did not consider what the land looked like from above, as some massive installations in Peru like the Nazca lines or the orientation of the Great pyramids in Egypt to mirror the Orion's belt, are reflections of seeing from above in a certain kind of way. We can only speculate what their intentions were. Even with those speculations, we can consider what we are doing now.
I travel along roads in my camper, and these lines I move along are also arbitrary maps and imposed lines on place. Roadway 'lines' are sometimes drawn onto, sometimes drawn with, or through mountains, or into hillsides, rather than with the land's story.
I obsess over scientific names which are a dead foreign deemed universal language (Latin) that doesn't speak to the depth of a plant's use and meaning to a specific place and its intricacies. Sometimes it speaks to a plants use generally, or its color or a common characteristic that is also applied to plants across the world. We live in globalized world. We are having to make decisions and work with people in places really physically far away. Having a tool to communicate about ecological restoration, preservation and diversity is helpful. I've always grappled with how I feel about how globalism can diffuse or reaffirm place and identity. Am I perpetuating the erasure of the land's language by mapping places through collecting scientific names? By embracing something that can be used to communicate beyond living languages about plants anywhere in the world, am I contributing to the erasure of the naming and identity of place?
Am I perpectuating the harm of modern map-making by 'connecting ecologies' the way I have been this past few years through the Ground Shots Project? I think it is somewhat of a paradox. I am driven to do this work of capturing place over time in certain places because the maps of gridding don't make sense to me because I see plants spread out organically in a way that is hard to categorize and put in western ideas of 'order.' I want to connect places that are labeled 'bio-regionally' separate. In reality one map merges and affects another, and there isn't actually a clear beginning and end to the story of the land. What is different though is that my movement doesn't allow for the slow unfolding of the naming and story of a place that can only happen in deep time.
One place can suddenly expand like an accordion, and with each open chamber emerges a new insight about what makes a place what it is.
My work isn't meant to be some kind of grand saviorist reworking of harm done but is just my own processing of what I witness and how I am orienting myself in the complicated layers of a place, including the messed-up modern maps and how they make me feel as a visitor onto a land.
Exploring, questioning and challenging the ideas that we hold to be true in this world, are also wrapped up in how we accept or deny the truth of a place in our naming.
I call Fremont Cottonwood using a colonizing map-makers name, yet, I don't know what else to call it. Using all the native names also doesn't feel appropriate because I am not native. Yet somewhere in between using colonizing language, and universal languages like the dead Latin language, and the indigenous names of plants and places is a space to rework and constantly question what is accepted. Sometimes this is uncomfortable. Sometimes another alternative for naming doesn't exist.
Excerpt from Ground Shots 1/2, Working in Resins:
miles away from no-thing
the vast and impenetrable shakes up formulas
the formula is harder to write across this land as it challenges our rules of time and space
a space that challenges the rules must not be fit for any man, or woman, or person.
if they fit in the land somehow, they much be no higher 'man.'
no hu-man, no man's land.
racing on chipped highways,
heat blurring vision,
piercing straight through immense lake beds,
dried up, sunk below.
leaving scales of salt.
no sound but wind across such flatness, no man, unfit land, a void invoking fear of death.
no men must have dug the roots, ate the pine buts, climbed the mountains, wove the sagebrush.
no grid is found, no man's land.
no-thing is where we can dig underground bunkers, fence them in, build a grid,
of order and sense and no trespassing.
barbed wire wraps around squares, stair stepped giants walk through unburied precious stones,
for building circuits, grids, creating order out of the discomfort of no-thing.
in the void,
we are allowed to bury the lines of our defense,
protect law and order.
the ability to destory and maintain right angles at all costs.
Here, I reflect too on how we defend our lines and grids and modern maps because we are scared of what the land would look like without it. We are scared of seeing how we could live our lives differently, taking the time to engage the land in the most human ways we can. To let go of private land ownership, the entitlement to resources, the fences that say you're allowed here but not there, requires letting go of a total constructed reality. Our neighbors and peers do it, so we think we need to too. This lack of challenging the narrative just perpetuates the harm that modern mapping does on land. But here I am, in California, where because my body is existing within certain drawn lines, I can get health insurance, but if my body exists on the other side of the line, then I don't get it. My white skins makes me safer on this side of a fence, when if I had darker skin in this culture, it would be less so.
We use lines and maps to our advantage. And sometimes to our detriment. Sometimes we use them to make sure people we don't like stay 'out' or don't get to 'have' what we feel entitled to have, like the right to drill for oil on native lands, or the right to have thousands of acres to herd cattle. Or the right to have access to wild space, or the right to live on the side of the city with more real estate value.
If we all collectively attempted to do work like Jim's that redraws maps of the land, what would our world look like? How would we co-exist? Many of us who live on Turtle Island now are not indigenous to this land. Time hasn't spent thousands of years literally morphing our flesh from clay, as the Hopi/Tewa potter John Mahkewa I interviewed last month for the Ground Shots podcast said about how our bodies are made from the land (yet to be released).
What if we decided to weave baskets from invasive vines? Or pool our so called 'resources' together? Or grow things in circles not rows, or stir the hardened soil with a digging stick under the shadow of an edible desert plant, sprinkling its seeds in the cracks? Re-mapping can look many ways. This is where I think creativity and art are incredibly important in this process.
A few books to peruse:
Mapping And Imagination In The Great Basin: A Cartographic History by Richard V. Francaviglia
The Void, the Grid and the Sign: Traversing the Great Basin by William Fox
Aereality: On the World from Above by William Fox
Mapping The Empty: Eight Artists And Nevada by William Fox