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Seeing the four sacred mountains: Mapping, landscape and Navajo sovereignty

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In 1968, photographer Laura Gilpin published The Enduring Navaho, which intentionally juxtaposes colonialist cartography with an immersive understanding of landscape. This article situates Gilpin’s project within the broader historical trajectory of traditional Navajo spatial imaginaries, including the work of contemporary Navajo artist Will Wilson. Euramerican settler-colonist maps of the Navajo Nation at mid-century were tools for Native displacement, revealing the transnational dilemma of the Navajo people. Their twentieth-century history was one of continual negotiation; on a pragmatic level, it often entailed the cultivation and education of Euramerican allies such as Gilpin. For her, landscape photography offered an alternative indexical authority to colonial maps, and thus had the potential to redefine Navajo space in the Euramerican imagination ‐ in terms that were closely aligned with Navajo ideology. Without escaping the contradictions inherent in her postcolonial situation, Gilpin sought a political space for Navajo epistemology, and thus for Navajo sovereignty.
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Keywords: Laura Gilpin; Navajo; Will Wilson; landscape; photography; sovereignty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000107217331Oklahoma State University

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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