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  • "Unrefutable Responsibility":Mapping the Seeds of Settler Futurity and Seeding the Maps of Indigenous Futurity
  • Marcel Brousseau (bio)


"The map," the Potawatomi cartographer Margaret Pearce has written, "presents the results but omits the process." The meaning of this maxim applies not only to the geologic events indexed by river signs and hachures but also to the "locations of the remnants or artifacts of cultural processes," which sometimes must be "gleaned from what is seen" in the cartographic frame.1 Gleaning is a good way to describe what Pearce, alongside Robert Lee, Tristan Ahtone (Kiowa), Kalen Goodluck (Diné/Mandan/Hidatsa/Tsimshian), Geoff McGhee, and Katherine Lanpher have done in Land-Grab Universities, the feature from the March 2020 issue of High Country News.2 By combing beneath the U.S. national map, they have found the "seed money for higher education in the United States" in the form of coerced Indigenous land cessions turned real-estate parcels turned university endowments.3 At the center of this project, Pearce's maps, made in "nonhierarchical" collaboration with the High Country News team—and made quite literally with the parcel polygon shapefiles painstakingly reconstructed by Lee from archival documentation—subvert the common sense of the map: they confront the results of an expropriated landscape by presenting the violent and obscurantist processes through which it was made.4

Pearce's maps make visible processual variations of replacement, or the ongoing project by which settler colonists eliminate Indigenous presence and establish settler sovereignty. As Eve Tuck (Unangaˆx) and Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández explain, methods of replacement include "homicide, but also state-sanctioned miscegenation, the issuing of individual land titles, native citizenship, child abduction, religious conversion, reprogramming (via missions or boarding schools), and myriad forms of assimilation," all following what Patrick Wolfe calls the "logic of elimination," which asserts that settlers' need for territory necessitates the removal of Indigenous people.5 The removal and replacement of Indigenous people are guided by [End Page 112] settlers' desire to "supersede the conditions" of the colonial encounter and to attain what Lorenzo Veracini terms the "non-encounter," a disavowal of settler status whereby the settler "repress[es], co-opt[s], and extinguish[es] indigenous alterities, and productively manage[s] ethnic diversity" en route to replacing the Native as native.6

As Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández show, structures of replacement are normalized through educational curricula that "creat[e, as] a national subject," the "white subject, whose manifest destiny is to take the place of the savage."7 This process doubly implicates land-grant universities as sites that pedagogically "[maintain] symbolic logics through which to justify the theft and occupation of Indigenous land" while also materially partaking of the national replacement of Indigenous land as real estate.8 Land-Grab Universities (LGU) shows that the so-called democracy's colleges, the fifty-two land-grant universities, exemplified the logic of elimination by remediating Indigenous land into permanent endowments of money, thus deferring actual encounters with Indigenous people over thousands of acres of actual land.9 The Morrill Act's transmutation of Indigenous land into perpetual capital replaces the historic reality of Indigenous dispossession with the futuristic reality of settler possession in the form of a "fund [that] shall remain forever undiminished."10 Land-grant universities are thus instruments of what Tuck and Gaztambide-Fernández call "settler futurity," in that they are a form of permanent preparation for settler dominance and territorial control.11

As with Pearce's definition of the map, land-grant universities present the results but omit the process. By mapping the Morrill Act's structures of replacement, Pearce also maps the procedures by which Native land becomes nonencounterable as Indigenous or land. In conversation, Pearce stated that her broad vision for LGU was to make maps that followed the narrative of the article while reflecting different types of mapping.12 There are five types of maps in the print and online versions of LGU (in addition to the Mapbox online interface designed by Geoff McGhee, which remediates some conventions of Pearce's maps). In juxtaposition with the localized account of Ishi (Yahi), which begins the article, the first map presents an orthographic "high...


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pp. 112-122
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