The famous war criminal, rapist, and human trafficker Christopher Columbus first touched “American” soil on October 12th 1492 when he reached the Bahama Islands. Fast-forward 524 years later and indigenous people of the Americas are still routinely discriminated against as federal courts are currently fighting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline which would destroy some of the tribe’s consecrated sites; Native Americans have massive disproportionate prevalence of alcoholism and poverty on reservations; only just this year there was the first Native American federal judge, Diane Humetewa, of the Hopi tribe, and in 2014, only 97 out of 24,989 architecture students identified themselves as “American Indian or Alaskan Native.” Every American knows of the crimes against humanity that European settlers did to native people; along with slavery, it’s the dark spot on our history that we should always be ashamed of, always remember, and always seek to counteract with love.
Slowly but surely, there’s progress—even if it’s rarely seen in the architecture field. Alongside Humetewa, influential Native American writers like Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdich are revered, with an enormous presence in the broader landscape of American literature, in addition to being indigenous nationalists. The stereotype in film, as far as I can tell, of the dangerous, vicious Indian warrior has disappeared; though the more innocuous stereotype of the stoic, wise, magical Native American remains.
In the U.S, the oldest living architecture was built by the Pueblo Indians, with their contribution of adobe designs. Today, this influence still lives in the Pueblo Revival movement, and buildings such as: Painted Desert Inn, Zimmerman Library, and La Fonda Hotel. But overall, Native American architects are widely underrepresented in the field with over 90% of American architects still being white, and most of that 90% being men. In searching for Native American architects there are practically none. The architect Billy Hinton of HKS identifies as Cherokee, and Mike Laverdure of DSGW is Chippewa, but overall, this is a field with an unseen Native American presence.
Why does architecture lag behind literature, visual arts, music, and other fields in its utter non-inclusion of Native American people? What needs to happen to reverse the racism embedded in the status quo? Because surely bringing more voices and viewpoints would only serve to advance the field by allowing for enhanced creativity and openness.
By: David Plick