Columbia University (USA) / Tutors: Karen Fairbanks (2017)
This project experiments with media to describe contemporary architectural problems. Blackfeet people tell stories about trying to live in their homeland. Each ties their experiences to the citizenship system that only tribes use: blood quantum. Its presence in each story refocused my work on that system lurking in every Indigenous person’s rights to Indigenous land within America. In listening to these interviews, I could hear a hundred conversations taking place in our communities and in our heads: about home and the homeland, about growing up and not fitting in, about the ways we dream of and fight for our sovereignty’s return. These four books attempt to distill those conversations through fragmentary interviews, recollections, maps, photography, satellite imagery, and graphical experiments.
Book #1 explores the ways Blackfoot Country has been formed of boundaries, past and present. The power to name the land, build on it, gather from it, and care for it, even the ability to live above the flood line, were all systematically stripped away through colonization that gradually made this land into Montana and Alberta. Reclaiming those names through language, those rights to sustenance, and the power to build good homes are all integral to decolonization. Revealing the complex relationships and intersecting rights imposed on the land through mapped boundaries and captured imagery is a way to begin.
Book #2 examines how each contributor has worked within systems of land tenure, citizenship, poverty, and education to create a home for their extended families. Each contributor tells a particular story about finding home, framed by a series of maps and captured satellite imagery displaying those places.
Book #3 begins a graphical experiment by juxtaposing photos of the Blackfeet Reservation with each contributor’s blood quantum, which passes through the page and disrupts a sketch of their current residence and their own story of home. This book sees all eight contributors answer the question “where is home?” in the same way: “here.” They, like so many others in Indian Country, are contending with the impossibility of conclusive processes of dispossession.
Book #4 expands the graphical experiment by painting across conversations about blood quantum and citizenship. Each contributor’s blood quantum — the raw number — asserts itself across the page. The fractions are arranged from greatest to least, becoming more insistent as they bleed below the minimum 1/4 required to remain a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Cousins, half-siblings, nieces, children, and parents tend to have wildly different numbers. These numbers do not demonstrate their Blackfeetness, community participation, or any kind of science. Instead, they are products of missing records, political feuds, and typos made a hundred years before.
Media that engage directly with lived experience and the emotional bonds of occupied space seem able to parse these complex issues where an architect’s conventional tools — and almost universal unfamiliarity with Indigenous histories — are not. Colonization is an ongoing set of processes invading every aspect of life on Blackfoot land. Confronting those processes through architectural intervention or planning generally means performing within systems that implicitly forget dispossession. In a small way, this project asserts: The experiences of Indigenous people in environments built around, against, and sometimes for us produce architectural knowledge, often unmediated by the academy or the profession. Rebuilding sovereignty will mean reaching together for our old stories that instruct us in how to care for (and build with) our Turtle Island.