Mapping urban communities of care in cartographic art practices

Mishuana Goeman

The center of US power is property rights, the legal system that seeks to legitimate conquest and violence. Mapping is an essential settler-colonial tool to domesticate land in Southern California and propel development. Both violence and mapping ensured California Indian erasure in establishing new and ongoing commerce centers. The scratched-out land plots, marked by outlines of trees, rock formations, and water markers, are not the plotted lines of cartesian accuracy. These colonial maps garner power through military might and brutal dispossession. The attempted removal of California Indians, their knowledge systems, and their way of seeing and being with the land is necessary to the mass development across California and its ongoing snowball effect on the environment. These chicken-scratch maps are original property maps, continuing dispossession even as the plots have been subdivided again and again since this moment. The Diseños Buenos Ayres map, which is now the area of Bel-Air and UCLA, is the homeland of the Gabrieliño Tongva, who continue their relationship with the San Gabriel Mountains. Many of these maps depict regions that are the most expensive real estate properties in the United States. Newer maps may exist of these properties, and they may seem more “objective” and “scientific” with better models of scale or a more realist representation, but at the core, they still map dispossession. While the Tongva currently do not have a tribal land base or a place to launch their T’iats, the people continue to have a deep knowledge of place and commitment to protecting all their relatives—the human and more-than-human. Dorame engages with traditional cultural items to remap a path back, despite the disinterring of cultural objects that continue to happen as development occurs and institutions are built. The physical landscape of her map highlights the unknown through the mysterious cogstones and the known that remains and keeps those lines of connection intact, represented in her trademark of red strings that flow into and out of the frame of the photos and installation. Salt, earth, sky, and memory present a powerful presence in creating this installation map of ongoing Tongva presence. Dorame’s map is a powerful anti-colonial map juxtaposed against the first simplistic map and asks us to question power and place.

"Our Land and Sky Waking Up -‘Eyoo'ooxon Koy Tokuupar Chorii’aa,” Mercedes Dorame

"Our Land and Sky Waking Up -‘Eyoo'ooxon Koy Tokuupar Chorii’aa,” Mercedes Dorame, in The Map and The Territory: 100 years of Collecting at UCLA, 2021. Photo by Jeanette Saunders, Courtesy of the Fowler Museum and the artist.

Situated in the Borders and Boundaries section of The Map and The Territory exhibit at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Mercedes Dorame’s "Our Land and Sky Waking Up - ‘Eyoo'ooxon Koy Tokuupar Chorii’aa” installation acts as a deep map that defies western concepts of mapped territory held in colonial encompassing property logics. By creating connections to land and community that travel through time in the presentation of collected and stored cultural objects, she emphasizes the practice of making ongoing connections to place.

Diseños: maps and plans of ranchos of Southern California

Diseños: maps and plans of ranchos of Southern California (1852), mainly within Los Angeles and Orange counties. Bound Manuscripts Collection (Collection 170, Item 368). Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

The 493 hand-drawn Diseños maps, filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852, are all similar to the Buenos Ayres one you see pictured here. The Land Act of 1851 established the domestication of the California landscape under US governance, providing an avenue to legitimate existing Mexican land rights, and map out territory yet “unclaimed.” Even within the history of these maps and the land claims process, the land relationships of California Indians in Southern California were not only denied legally, but the mapping process propelled ongoing violence against their bodily survival.

Dr. Mishuana Goeman, Tonawanda Band of Seneca, is a Professor of Gender Studies and American Indian Studies, and affiliated faculty in Community Engagements and Critical Race Studies in the Law School, UCLA. She is also the inaugural Special Advisor to the Chancellor on Native American and Indigenous Affairs. She will be the associate director of the Center for the Study of Women 2021-2022. Along with several journal and book chapters, she is also the author of Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), part of Keywords in Gender and Sexuality Studies (2021) editorial collective, and a Co-PI on three community based digital projects, Mapping Indigenous L.A. (2015), Carrying Our Ancestors Home (2019), and California Native Hub (2021).