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Hearing indigenous space: notes on oral history methods along the sub-Arctic Pacific Coast

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3:30 PM, Thursday 26 May 2022 (20 minutes)

This abstract is in anticipation of a long research journey I will soon embark upon: a sub-Arctic circumpolar oral history project to speak with various Indigenous elders around the world. For this presentation, I want to focus on methods of finding architectural space in the stories of the Haida, the Gwich’in, and the Inuit in the sub-Arctic coastal regions of Canada. Here, time, frost, and colonial oppression have inevitably vetted out stellar models of living sustainably. Many indigenous peoples never took to writing or drawing, yet, there is much architectural wisdom embalmed in their re-telling of age-old stories: in their working with rather than against the environment, their communions with both species and spaces, their patterns of migration, and their means of knowing and remembering. It is precisely in their ‘unwritten-ness’ that their adaptability and indeed sustainability lies.

Unlike Eurocentric disciplinary boundaries of architecture, Indigenous space is often tacit knowledge embedded in various place-making practices that are manifest in myth and stories, and physically in various phases of carbon-chemistry-lifecycles involving food, clothing, energy and shelter alike. Many indigenous peoples remember valuable know-hows of sustainably living by placing them in infinite ‘memory palaces’. Here, architecture also emerges fundamentally as a form of public memory. In re-telling and adapting these know-hows of mutual subsistence, endure their cultures of care. This presentation will explore ethical methods of making oral history in Indigenous contexts, and the dynamics of hearing about architecture, and hearing space itself in the making.

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