- Where a Bird's-Eye View Shows More Concrete: Mapping Indigenous L.A. for Tribal Visibility and Reclamation
Mapping Indigenous L.A.is one of the most powerful contributions to the emergent field of Digital Native American and Indigenous Studies (DNAIS), and it is every bit as groundbreaking for American Studies as some of the most esteemed scholarly monographs—think Lisa Brooks's The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeastor Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache—for its ability to move our field to better understand Indigenous ways of seeing and being in place. The project, housed at the University of California, Los Angeles, decolonizes both urban space and representations of Indigeneity, showing that the former is in fact Indigenous and the latter is in fact urban. Further, it stands as a unique counterpoint to the prevailing tendency among many projects in DNAIS, which are predominantly remote-historical and ethnographic in focus. Nobody can visit Mapping Indigenous L.A.without seeing immediately that Indigenous people, spaces, and traditions are not static objects or pinpoints but living, dynamic, and future-oriented entities.
In its early days, digital humanities (DH) saw some handwringing over the possibility that the scholarship was too heavily text-based, that we had somehow missed out on the much-vaunted spatial turn. 1In the subfield of DNAIS, many of the earliest and most prestigious projects tended to present collections of images—photographs of ethnographic objects or scans of colonial documents—in no small part because they emanated from major collecting institutions like the American Philosophical Society, the Smithsonian, and Yale University. But there were also other, smaller online projects piloted by Indigenous people themselves, and these often had a spatial component. 2This should not be surprising, if we consider that Indigenous narrative (oral [End Page 941]and written, alphabetic and nonalphabetic) has always been geographically oriented, tying Indigenous people to their traditional and diasporic territories in the deepest, often geological senses of time.
Los Angeles is an apt place to undertake a geospatial DNAIS project. The city obviously has people who have lived there since time immemorial—the Gabrielino/Tongva and Tataviam—as well as Indigenous people who were relocated and displaced through the brutal history of the Spanish Missions. Additionally, LA is a particularly Indian city because of mid-twentieth-century US government policies that forcibly relocated large numbers of Native people to urban areas as part of a large-scale project of termination and relocation. More recently, LA has been (re)indigenized through immigration from Central and South America, as well as from Oceania. This city thus offers rich opportunities to map and to seeoverlapping colonial histories, as well as overlapping forms of Indigenous survival, exchange, and persistence.
The selection of projects offered in Mapping Indigenous L.A.says a great deal about how its team conceptualizes this urban space. It illustrates—and acts as—what the anthropologist Renya Ramirez (Winnebago) calls a "Native hub"—an urban space where different groups of Indigenous people mix, exchange knowledge, ferment political activism, and bring this knowledge back and forth to their home communities and indeed among those communities. 3At present, the site has six maps, with two more planned. Three are for the groups indigenous to the region, the Gabrielino/Tongva and Fernandeño Tataviam bands. Two more are pan–American Indian: one gives an overview of health resources available in the Los Angeles area; the other is a timeline of US efforts to educate to assimilate (including at the California Mission schools) and of tribal efforts to reclaim education for self-determination. A sixth map is devoted to the city's Latin American Indigenous Diaspora. Two more are "coming soon"—one on Pacific Islanders and the other intriguingly titled "Indigenous Crossroads and Currents." To support teaching, Mapping Indigenous L.A.offers an extensive bibliography, as well as two emergent collections of archival and teaching resources.
These maps are built with the GIS software company Esri...