GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity

The Rundstrum reading, “GIS, Indigenous Peoples, and Epistemological Diversity”, describes the incompatibility between the epistemological systems of GIS and indigenous peoples. ESRI’s moto, “Geography Organizing Our World”, assumes that everyone has the same vision of the world and that they can be rationalized into one model, although this is not the case. The author brings up many conflicts, mainly the absence in GIS of relatedness, non-empirical knowledge, the linear/cyclical understanding of time and the “democratization” of knowledge. The conclusion is that GIS cannot incorporate indigenous “notions” without diminishing them.

Although I agree that GIS is limited to a specific Western interpretation of the world, I feel that the author doesn’t offer a solution to the problem. Does GIS’ inability to capture all beliefs and understandings make it invalid? Should indigenous affairs be disregarded in GIS?

The main problem seems to be the government and Bureau of Indian Affairs imposing a set of norms and values to the native peoples through the use of GIS, but not the GIS itself. There is no doubt that there is a great level of injustice and inequality against natives, but I think attacking the GIS technology is shifting attention away from the assimilationist governments.

On another note, the author offers a description of GIS I feel I can finally ascribe to, as a technoscience “where technology has become the embodiment of science and its precepts”, although we don’t seem to appreciate it in the same way.


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