First Year Ph.D. Student Isaac Rivera Receives Simpson Center's Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship!

Submitted by Nell Gross on

The Department of Geography congratulates first-year Ph.D. student Isaac Rivera for receiving a Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship from the Simpson Center for the Humanities! The Simpson Center's website states "Digital Humanities Summer Fellowships support scholars pursuing research projects that use digital technologies in innovative and intensive ways and/or explore the historical, social, aesthetic, and cross-cultural implications of digital cultures. Each year, four faculty and four graduate student research fellowships are awarded. Fellows meet weekly throughout the summer to discuss their digital projects in progress." Described by geography department chair, Professor Sarah Elwood, as "a timely, creative, and socially significant public history project that is greatly needed," Digitizing the Sacred: Water, Struggle, and the Digital Legal Geography of Standing Rock "aims to point out the tension, appropriation, extraction, capturing, and dispossession that ultimately occurs when land is digitized and brought to media inquiry without formal consent." Rivera says Professor Elwood "made me feel at ease throughout the application process, and ultimately helped me craft a winning proposal. She connected me to her colleagues [who] had recently won a similar fellowship, helping me as a result to better understand the application process."

In addition to Professor Elwood's support, Rivera sought advice and help with his application from fellow geography Ph.D. candidate Julian Barr, who has received two fellowships from the Simpson Center: the Summer Fellows for Public Projects in the Humanities and the Fellows for Reaching New Publics in the Humanities. The former "supported the creation of the map/tour Pioneer Square and the Making of Queer Seattle, which has grown into a somewhat consistent offering ... for groups here at UW, University of Puget Sound, MOHAI, and Historic Seattle." Barr's current fellowship from the Simpson Center "[connects] graduate students to community college mentorship for a full academic year. I have been working with Dr. Cris Borges at North Seattle Community College observing and working with his history courses." As a result, Barr "can now with confidence say I am a public scholar but also that I position myself both in geography as a social science as well as part of the humanities." Thanks to this support, Barr says he "made an effort to promote the Simpson Center to newer grad students generally so that the department continues the relationship myself and others have built with the center. With Isaac, I primarily shared my materials and encouraged him to apply for both the Public Projects and the Digital Humanities fellowship." Rivera emphasizes that Barr's help was "instrumental. He gave me a copy of his winning proposal. He helped me feel at ease about the proposal process. He clued me into the process and helped demystify it for me. Incredibly helpful." Below, Rivera describes the project in greater detail as well as the ways in which this generous fellowship will help bring it to fruition!

About the project, Digitizing the Sacred: "The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) conflict of 2016 that continues on to the present day is a territorial conflict between the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples who are collectively known as the Oceti Šakowiŋ Oyate, or Great Sioux Nation, and the U.S. My intent with this project is to illuminate the broader historical and territorial struggles that the Great Sioux Nation, among other indigenous nations continue to endure. To do so, the project will center the voices of elders and historians to comment on the relationship between the Fort Laramie (1851/1868) Treaties and the DAPL conflict at Standing Rock. The commentary will be audio recorded and juxtaposed with a series of maps that depict the location of Standing Rock and the broader DAPL conflict. In one sense, the project will illuminate the ‘digital map battle’ that was played over digital platforms at the peak of the protests in 2016. Ultimately, the project will feature a platform that is narrated by the Oceti Šakowiŋ peoples for their own interpretation and significance regarding how maps play a role in telling the history of their land, as well as how maps impact and distort their existence on land at the same time. These maps will include the original treaty boundaries of the Fort Laramie Treaties (1851/1868), Sioux Maps, Indian Claims Commission (ICC) Maps, as well as maps that were drawn by media outlets, for a broader conversation surrounding their consequences.

This project is inspired by the concept called 'counter-mapping.' To counter map within this tradition involves the act of making the invisible visible. The concept began in the 1990's as a tool by indigenous peoples to visiblize their existence within history and landscapes, the tool continues to be widely used by social movements throughout the world. The following groups were particularly influential: Edmonton Pipelines, Ogimaa Mikana Project, This Is Not an Atlas, and Native Land Digital."

On the significance of this project: "My interest in indigenous environmental issues was sparked by the American Indian Movement (AIM) of Colorado. In doing environmental justice work in North Denver and advocating for my Latinx community, I quickly learned that the environmental issues in North Denver, my home, were not just particular to the Latinx or the black experience. The AIM taught me from a young age that these issues were part of broader historical and political economic struggles that has impacted not just the indigenous peoples of Colorado (Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho), but to point out that environmental racism practices are materially connected through pipeline infrastructure that expands throughout the world. From Colorado through the Dakotas (Oceti Sakowin Oyate), and into what is known as the Athabasca Tar Sands located on First Nations territory in Alberta, Canada, pipeline infrastructure is composed of a vast and growing network that threatens water supplies wherever they go. The oil leaking into rivers in North Denver (Spring 2012) is the same oil that impacts First Nations peoples in Alberta. Pipeline infrastructure continues to grow with expanding oil markets, resulting in territorial conflicts throughout Turtle Island that continue on to this day, including at Standing Rock in 2016.

Today, I serve as a council member for the Fourth World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics where we have actively sought to connect the struggles of indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination around the world. This effort is centered on expanding the autonomy of indigenous nations. The center is led and directed by Professor Glenn Morris (Shawnee), who has been instrumental in advancing the idea of indigenous people rights for self-determination for over two decades. Through his mentorship, I’ve worked on indigenous territorial issues in Ghana, India (Nagaland), Nicaragua, Oceti Sakowin at Standing Rock, and throughout Turtle Island more broadly. As a doctoral student in geography at the University of Washington, I continue on with questions of self-determination and territorial sovereignty, but with a particular focus on the question of: what does territorial sovereignty look like in the digital age?"

On deciding to apply for the Digital Humanities Summer Fellowship and why this fellowship program is a good fit for the project: "I’ve been teaching and working on the relationship between cartography, digitality, and indigenous social movements in Colorado for some time. Upon seeing the Simpson Center website in the days after I decided to move to the [UW Department of] Geography, I knew I was making the right choice. After seeing that they offered a Digital Humanities fellowship, I knew I had to apply. Note: I was reflecting on this decision in February and March of 2018.

Beyond my project, the Simpson Center has shown that it cares and values indigenous studies on campus. My intent is to broaden, deepen, and continue connecting the global struggles for indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination in both the Oceti Sakowin Oyate context in which my project operates in, but also to build relationships and connections with the Duwamish peoples, [on whose land the UW sits,] among other indigenous peoples across Turtle Island who are facing all too familiar struggles. The significance and importance of treaty territories in defending land is a common tool that indigenous nations share in common. I believe the Simpson Center sees utility in making connections, building relationships, and sharing knowledge that is used to advance self-determination efforts."