Do stones talk in an artificial universe? Examining Vine Deloria's agency of place in built environments

Authors: Briana Meier*, University of Oregon
Topics: Geographic Theory, Cultural Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: urban cultural studies, Indigenous philosophy, sacred places, urban geography, Deloria, urban theory
Session Type: Interactive Short Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper works with Vine Deloria, Jr.’s account of the agential properties of place and its conceptual and practical implications for North American cities. Deloria’s 1979 book, The Metaphysics of Modern Existence, includes an account of the nature of space and place and a critique of western science’s conception of matter as inert. Deloria offers an ontology of a living world, one in which everything is alive and run through with a mysterious, intelligent energy.

This paper examines the concept of the agency of place in light of the contemporary urban environment and includes the case study of the October 2017 “We Draw the Line” totem pole journey led by members of the Lummi tribe of the Pacific Northwest. A group of people from the Lummi Nation conducted a tour throughout the Pacific Northwest to bring awareness to natural resource extraction issues facing indigenous communities; the tour featured a newly carved totem pole, which was presented and blessed by attendees at each stop. The events educate the broader communities about the understanding of land’s agency among Indigenous peoples, and they demonstrate a relational ontology between people and place.

Taking seriously claims that places are sacred means revisiting dominant culture’s concept of land as property or empty space or inert. It requires a reckoning with the grip of state control and capitalism on both space and subjectivity. It offers a new ontology for the built environment that takes seriously the relationality between space and subjectivity.

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