This project is supported by the Digital Rights Community Grant Program, a partnership between Digital Justice Lab, Tech Reset Canada and Centre for Digital Rights.
It is with deep gratitude that we bring this project to the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, Stó:lō, Stz’uminus, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.
This map is a sonic engagement of Treaty Six on the North Campus of the University of Alberta. Campus has a long history as Native Land, be it as a traditional meeting place for diverse Indigenous peoples (Cree, Blackfoot, Métis, Nakota Sioux, Dene, Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, Haudenosaunee, and others) on the banks of the kisiskāciwani-sīpiy (North Saskatchewan River), as the homestead of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, or as a Papaschase Cree settlement – forcibly disbanded by the government only 20 years prior to the university’s founding.
Featuring bioacoustic sounds of South Quad, the recordings converge around the Sweetgrass Bear, a granite sculpture created by carver Stewart Steinhauer as a physical expression of treaty obligations (Almond et al., 2018, para 8). According to Steinhauer, the use of granite calls into being the Rock Grandfather – a facilitator of human communication: “the Rock Grandfather uses a non-linguistic approach to communication, speaking directly, consciousness to consciousness, bypassing language altogether”. The materiality of the sculpture thus facilitates a sensory encounter meant to engage the holistic teachings of the Sweetgrass Bear.
With this digital experiment, it is our goal to detail spacetime aurally on this Land where we learn, grow, and imagine with a focus on Indigeneity, sacred ecology, and deep listening. Where colonial mapping logics delineate and contain space for the sake of state seizure and control, sonic mapping begins to chart the complex entanglements and fluidity of spacetime that defy borders and static representations of space and place. It is our hope that this map becomes a site of heard (and felt) connection wherein resonance with the sounds of the environment requires a (re)orientation to campus – a place sounding with the vibrancies of the Land and hi/stories of Treaty Six.
kiskinowasihta – listen carefully, so that you will know it after
Pauline Oliveros has taught me a lot about sound. Her declaration that “everything is sounding” shifted my listening practice and, somewhat painfully, revived a personal awareness of the bioacoustic environments through which I move (Oliveros, 2017). Pauline’s life’s work was oriented towards deep listening: “creating an atmosphere of opening for all to be heard, with the understanding that listening is healing” (Oliveros, 2017). This resonates with me, I believe that all kinds of healing and connection occurs when we allow ourselves to listen to (and feel) that which animates our surroundings.
When I typically navigate campus I usually have my oversized headphones on, blasting the world away through music. I usually have a certain amount of time to run errands on campus, or I’m rushing from one meeting to class to another meeting. There’s no time for intentionality or exploration. Sound easily distracts me. As such, my surroundings fade behind the auditory boundaries I’ve constructed in an effort to focus. Still, sounds seep past the headphones. Making this map forces a reorientation. Headphones off, listening intently with my audio recorder at hand, ready for action.
I always have my headphones. In a panicked, I-can’t-leave-the-house-until-I-find-them, sort of way. My headphones allow me to disengage with the sonic environment – or rather, to curate my own, one in which I choose what I want to hear when I want to hear it. However, it is not lost on me that this protective act of retreating disconnects me from the intimate (and intimately-connected) kinesthetic and sonic awareness that Pauline champions. And so, headphones off, I too reorient towards a campus that is sounding.
This reorientation is and always will be informed by our own orientation(s): how we move through the world, the social locations we inhabit, the relationships we prioritize. As arbiters of its content (and process), we have deeply embedded ourselves in the map. Which, by way of its creation, operates as a proposition, an “argument about the world” (Harley, 1989, p.11) and particular places on campus asserted through our curation and navigation of it.
Memories shape the sounds of this space, and this map. As a student, I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredible Indigenous scholars who shape my understanding and perspectives, and their wisdom echoes inside me while I track sounds. Listening for the crunch of snow, voices in the distance, the wind, I also hear the voice of Trudy Cardinal (Cree/Métis) describing the importance of listening to learning, and the respect inherent in that act, saying “When I’m honouring what I’ve lived as Indigenous pedagogy, it comes from my grandmothers. It’s not that they lived the traditional Indigenous lifestyle on the land, it’s just their way of being and knowing. It’s an embodied knowledge, if we learn to listen to that again.” In other words, listen, learn, and live.
Treaty Six is based on nêhiyaw laws and understandings of treaty. In nêhiyaw oral tradition, the treaty with the crown was a “ceremonial covenant of adoption between two families” (McAdams 2015, p.41), a friendship and peace treaty to last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows. However, the written treaty used by the state of Canada (but made with the crown of England) conveys otherwise: the surrender of Indigenous Land for minimal compensation and reserves. According to Sharon Venne, nêhiyawak “have a relationship with [their] Creation based on a legal system designed to protect and honour the land. These are the laws that guided Cree Peoples when the Chiefs negotiated and concluded Treaty Six in 1876” (Venne 2007, p.2). Dwayne Donald further articulates that at the heart of the nêhiyaw legal system lies two cardinal concepts, that of miyo wichitowin (human-to-human relations) and miyo wakohtowin (broader kinship, including with plants, animals and rocks) (Cited in Stewart, 2015a, p.140). In Nationhood Interrupted, Sylvia McAdams reinforces the importance of these connections: “Indigenous nêhiyaw laws are “written” in the landscapes of the hills, the rocks, the waters, everything in the land tells of our history and our laws…to follow these laws means to follow a sacred life inextricably connected to the earth: one without the other would die” (McAdam 2012).
This is the version of treaty that the Sweetgrass Bear, a campus focal-point, represents, asking, as Emily Riddle (2019) suggests, “what does it mean to acknowledge treaty in a place [the university] that is constantly dispossessing Indigenous Land?” Further, what stake does the university have in reconciliation when, as Riddle suggests, nêhiyaw treaty “un-reconciles us” (2019)? The above questions point to the dis/harmony our map hopes to highlight: what might a practice of listening to the stories of the Land teach us about dissonance and the points of irreconcilability of the university and nêhiyaw treaty?
The University of Alberta is mapped in many ways: Google, ArcGIS, campus tours. These mappings situate a complicated space in a rather depthless way. Superficial geography. We, the human element, write the Land’s context. This Cartesian delineation is an inherently colonial understanding of Land that imagines humans and other-than-humans as separate from one another as opposed to intertwined. The question these maps answer is what the space is as opposed to what it does.
What does space do to us? What does the Institution do to us?
When the Land writes upon us, it becomes place and consequently we become part of it. It is space with meaning. Travelling from Treaty Six, Haudenosaunee scholars Joe Sheridan and Roronhiakewen “He Clears The Sky” Dan Longboat (2006) explain how Land, cognition, creativity, and knowledge are inextricably braided, writing:
restoration of mind, spirit, and imagination is a sequence that requires us to know the antiquity we embody and from there to plan the ecological restoration blood memory demands. Without maturation of our primal condition, neither we nor Mother Earth can know reciprocity on its own terms: as mind in nature, as nature in mind (p. 366).
More simply put, our ability to think, imagine, and theorize are dependant on the Land. It is affective and corporeal. When we consider ourselves as scholars, researchers, and educators at the University of Alberta, it’s imperative we acknowledge the Land and strive to live and work in relation to it, lest we ignore our own embodiment.
Wither a map – a disciplinary intervention
As digital humanities students, our project hopes to stage a disciplinary intervention – one that takes seriously the ontological and epistemological shifts required to challenge the colonial state apparatus. In honoring sound and story as cartographically significant, we aim to challenge a practice of mapping reliant on GIS (a product of the state) and its visual focus. How might the digital facilitate an engagement with the sensory composition of the Land? How might this engagement challenge the productive power of vision? How might this challenge remind us of our obligations to Treaty Six?
A map is what it does. A map is a communicative, contextual, spatial representation, a place-making feedback loop. It is a particular representation of a relationality to space and it asks that we recognize our position within and/or outside of it. It is a mediation of our understanding of the world, the multiplicity of our relationships to it, and how we may move through it. It is, forever, imbued with power and, subsequently, potential for subversion. Not a radical practice in and of itself, mapping in this way is a counter-argument to colonial logics of space – this map is in direct communication with the Map as state-apparatus, in particular, the state-treaty map as an articulation of power-knowledge that delineates space for the sake of colonial containment and control wherein this delineation cuts across Nations, waterways, traplines, and does not allow for the flow of relationships inherent in nêhiyaw law.
As such, we attempt to reject the settler-colonial visual-written supremacy of state mapping and instead prioritize spoken, sounding, story-based, mapping. Place is space supplemented with memory (Lippard 1997, p. 9), and memory is not always written. It is felt, heard, sensed, and this map honours this reality and praxis.
As sound scholar Mickey Vallee (2018) tells us, bioacoustics are inherently about communication, recording the sounds of the environment as they communicate with each other and the listener (p.206). The power of bioacoustics, he states, lies in its ability to “repair the damage of aesthetic distanciation as well as corporate extraction, both of which belong to the same colonialist enterprise” ( p.206).
This distanciation is productive, it allows for the disconnection required to continue to enact colonial erasure of the non-human animations of treaty. Sound shapes our experience of place; its vibrations, movement, audible expressions, emotional cues, inform our encounters with the university. It is both disorienting (reawakening and shifting things within the body) and orienting (connecting us to place in a meaningful way).
shut the fuck up and listen
Sound recordings are a particularly ephemeral resource, a challenge that speaks to essential archival questions: what counts as a “document” worth saving and what material realities inform our archival practices? Further, the majority of the historical sounds we had access to were produced sounds, human animated sounds – promotional videos, lectures, music recordings. We wonder how different this project might be if we could engage a bioacoustic record of quad, the river valley, the library, from 50 years ago? What continuities might we recognize what shifts might we witness?
I was always taught that listening is an honour. To listen is to experience generosity of wisdom, knowledge, insight, and memory. Pedagogically, to listen to the Land means to respect the Land and learn from it. Further to this perspective, artist and scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017) states that Land is both “context and process” (p. 151) and that “being engaged in land as pedagogy as a life practice inevitably means coming face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance, and violence” (p.166). As such, if the Land is a teacher and an archive, how could the ambient sounds of this map help us better understand campus across space, place and time?
Ultimately, it’s time that we shut up and listen.
Kateryna and Kendra, among many other things, are graduate students in the Digital Humanities program at the University of Alberta in ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ, Treaty Six territory. They are committed to feminist collaboration that prioritizes relationships, care, and systems-fuckery in their work together.
Kateryna Barnes’ dual Indigenous-settler heritage comprises displaced Kanien’kehá:ka of Akwesasne and working-class Ukrainian refugees. Her research explores decolonizing digital space, settler-colonialism as horror culture, and the educative potential of flawed simulacra.
Kendra Cowley is a second-generation settler of mixed-european heritage. Forever a schemer, committed collaborator, and self-deprecating artist, Kendra is interested in digitally-mediated (counter)narratives of madness, disability justice, and imagination work.
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itwewina – Online Plains Cree dictionary. University of Alberta. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2019, from http://sapir.artsrn.ualberta.ca/itwewina/
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McAdams (2012). “I Hear Many People Talk About Treaty, Far Too Many of Us Do.” Idle No More. Retrieved from http://www.netnewsledger.com/2012/12/15/ idle-no-more-i-hear-many-people-talk-about-treaty-far-too-many-of-us-do/
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Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake (2017). As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. University of Minnesota Press.
Riddle, E. (2019). Thoughts from am Traitorous Albertan: Treaty Feminism [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63ymjDsUOfM&feature=youtu.be &fbclid=IwAR3v0W5cxJzqxYiDQdK6Tjik84an3dSgvJiedNssGdBgy28MpJe8GetZjPY
Steinhauer, S. (2016) Consider this. Retrieved from https://blog.ualberta.ca/consider-this- stewart-steinhauer-on-the-sweetgrass-bear-in-treaty-six-territory-4077941a254c
Stewart, C. (2015). Treaty Six from Under Mill Creek Bridge. Toward.Some.Air. Wah, F. De’Ath, A. Banff Centre Press. Banff, AB.
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Cheng Thom, K. (Writer), & Lam, K. (Narrator). (2018). The River. Live performance in Alberta, Edmonton on 2018 December 7.