Counter Mapping: a decolonization tool

by Dave Pritchett
Watershed Discipleship Editorial Team Member

In my essay, “Watershed Discipleship in Babylon,” in the Watershed Discipleship anthology, I argued that the grid system is fundamentally opposed to the watershed. Where the watershed unites creatures within it by the hydrological cycle, the grid divides by parceling land into commoditized areas. Water in the watershed follows the contours of the earth, whereas the grid superimposes its lines across the landscape. Moreover, since Ancient Greece, the grid has been used as an imperial tool of colonization; it affords empire with a mechanism to quickly and strategically map an area for population and resource control.

Surveying and mapping via the grid was used by the United States for appropriation of indigenous lands into the nation-state and in order to assess natural resources for extraction. However, the Zuni of the Southwest are practicing mapping as resistance, by using maps to connect their people to their ancestral lands. “Counter Mapping,” a beautiful multimedia story published by Emergence Magazine, relates a beautiful project by Zuni artists of reclaiming right relationship with landscape through prayer maps. The project hopes that the readers of its maps will:

encounter these maps and consider their place in the cosmos — not a world that is constructed from GPS waypoints or one that was decreed in an executive order — but a particularly Zuni world, infused with the prayers and histories that created it. The Zuni maps have a memory, a particular truth. They convey a relationship to place grounded in ancestral knowledge and sustained presence on the land.