Note — Oct 20, 2019

Counter Mapping

I’ve often included mapping articles here, as well as thinking on territory, compasses, directions instead of plans, etc. This is the same, yet completely different; how a group of people from the A:shiwi (Zuni) tribe in New Mexico are reclaiming their history, their territory, the names they’ve used for centuries, and, in a way, even taking back ownership of their lands through the creation of their own “counter maps,” showing their land as they see and live it. It’s also about living places, taking the time, not simply downloading information. Click through for the pictures of the maps, the short video documentary heading the article, as well as the super short videos throughout the piece.

[M]odern maps hold no memory of what the land was before. Few of us have thought to ask what truths a map may be concealing, or have paused to consider that maps do not tell us where we are from or who we are. Many of us do not know the stories of the land in the places where we live; we have not thought to look for the topography of a myth in the surrounding rivers and hills. Perhaps this is because we have forgotten how to listen to the land around us. […]

[T]his 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. […]

His painting features snow-capped plateaus, ancient farming villages, buttes, and lakes, all of which rise as soft islands of color from a green and yellow background. Modern roads intersect the canvas as thin black lines. […]

The Zuni maps, says Jim, contain something very important: a different way of looking and knowing. “To assume that people would look at the earth only from a vantage point that is above and looking straight down doesn’t consider the humanity of living on the landscape.” […]

To ensure the resilience and well-being of the places where we live, we cannot assume that land is simply ours for the taking, a means to our own ends. The Zuni maps remind all of us that we, too, must take the time to deeply listen, to hear and share stories in which we and the land have equal voice.

Related → Indigenous Knowledge Can Help Solve the Biodiversity Crisis.