OOS 37-3
Cartographic translations of situated knowledge

Thursday, August 14, 2014: 8:40 AM
306, Sacramento Convention Center
Margaret W. Pearce, Department of Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

Traditional Indigenous place names render cultural knowledge of the ecological landscape visible and tangible, and Indigenous place name maps are essential to tribal mapping programs and in collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organizations. From a cartographer’s perspective, however, such maps often misrepresent Indigenous knowledge by reframing it within non-Indigenous spatiotemporal concepts regarding the measurement of distance and direction, the nature of time, and the terms by which knowledge is learned and taught. Through these misrepresentations, Indigenous knowledge is separated from the ontological foundations which give it meaning, perpetuating the very misunderstandings that have divided Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples from colonial times to the present. These misrepresentations can be avoided by approaching Indigenous mapping as a formalized process of cross-cultural translation. To illustrate this approach, I present the results of a three-year collaboration with Penobscot Cultural & Historic Preservation Department to map the traditional place names of Penobscot territory.


To cartographically translate Penobscot place names, I used the translator’s tools of domestication and foreignization, and denotation and connotation, and gave specific attention to cartographic discursive structures potentially misrepresentative of Penobscot worldview. I then considered alternatives for map symbolization and layout to improve the accuracy of the translation. These new designs led to deeper insights regarding the function of Penobscot place names and the relationality beween language, mapping, and the communication and archival of Indigenous knowledge of the physical landscape.