Carving around Concrete: Columbia River Art as Assertions of Native Space

Authors: Natchee Barnd*, Oregon State University
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Cultural Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: indigenous, art, urban, settler colonialism, cultural geography
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Native-controlled public art can play a meaningful role in the reclamation of indigenous geographies. Presenting images of several Columbia River Art public installation projects, I argue that such pieces have a unique, although constrained, ability to move from being objects just used as symbols of multicultural incorporation toward insurgent acts sustaining and creating spatial reorganization. What kind of geographical work can be done by a cedar bunkrail in a public plaza or a riverside anthropomorphic sculpture? These questions of spatial significance and capacity are especially well tested in urban sites, where indigenous presence is most thoroughly “removed” or forgotten. So, what happens when Native homelands are reasserted within the city? Is art the most effective means of making such assertions? This presentation will describe ongoing collaborative research commissioned by a Native nation with the explicit aim of actively reshaping the landscape of Portland, Oregon and beyond. Drawing from interviews with artists and tribal officials, I outline a unique spatial project being deployed by a native community as it moves toward a more intentional and expansive assertion of indigenous lands and space. I will also briefly highlight the ways this research project models scholarly service and community-based investigations. Given its initiation by the tribe, I want to share some of the expected impacts of generating and extending a tribally-held catalog of public Columbia River art, including fostering tribal community conversations about whether and how to use such projects and developing clear tribal protocols for future projects.

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