Recent graduate Owen Oliver spent his last undergraduate year at the UW researching and writing an Indigenous walking tour of campus. Available in print and PDF form on the American Indian studies website, the booklet details seven different locations and art pieces across campus with Indigenous ties.
The inspiration for the booklet came from a study abroad trip. Oliver said that after seeing the University of British Columbia’s own Indigenous walking tour, he knew he had to create one for the UW.
“Learning more about the Indigenous presence on campuses and institutions, and as a Coast Salish person myself, I wanted to see that [presence] at the UW,” Oliver said.
After receiving funding through the Husky Seed Grant, Oliver got to work. The 40-page, full-color booklet details locations such as the Intellectual House, UW Medicinal Herb Garden, and the HUB. Oliver beautifully weaves both historical and personal stories of Indigenous peoples throughout the pages of the booklet, accompanied by illustrations and photos of the tour locations.
“[The walking tour] encompasses our historical context, even contemporary context, and connects the reader to issues that Indigenous students, staff, faculty, [and] peoples endure,” Oliver said.
Oliver said that in addition to shedding light on Indigenous histories and issues, the walking tour tasks itself with moving that narrative forward. Oliver hopes the walking tour helps people connect to the land through different points of view, as well as visualize the UW campus as a holistic place of learning.
While initially the booklet was intended to be a factual look at the Indigenous history of campus and the Seattle area, it slowly transformed into something else. Oliver said the walking tour “evolved into my own personal narration of campus and my personal reflection.”
One of the most powerful chapters — and Oliver’s personal favorite of the booklet — is the narrative chapter, “Shoreline Connection.” The chapter details the history of the Union Bay area, contrasting its Indigenous roots as tide flats with its present-day state.
“The woman humbly says, ‘sluʔwiɫ.’ Understand that’s the name of the village site that bordered Ravenna Creek and washed into Lake Washington. Now covered up by concrete and capitalism, it may be your favorite destination to eat, play, and shop,” Oliver writes in the booklet.
While the walking tour was finished in February, Oliver said his work with the booklet remains ongoing. Oliver is creating an audio version of the tour narrated by himself, and at this year’s Dawg Daze, he will be holding in-person walking tours on Sept. 23 and 24.
“[The project] is such a lasting statement on campus that this is only the beginning,” Oliver said. “This last year of me graduating and writing it was really the first year of the walking tour, and now this is where we get to make it grow bigger than we thought it could be.”
The most difficult part of creating the booklet, Oliver said, was deciding what to include. He quickly realized, through researching and talking to the Indigenous community, that there could easily be multiple Indigenous walking tours of the UW.
“My tour shouldn’t be seen as an absolute guide of Indigenous UW, but as a starting point to the dozens of other nearby places and stories I didn’t include,” Oliver writes at the end of the booklet.
Oliver said he hopes the walking tour increases the visibility of Indigenous people and inspires people to appreciate different ways of learning.
“Knowledge systems are shared and learned,” Oliver said. We have so many colleges within the University — it’s not just STEM, it’s not just arts. It’s all these different, multifaceted communities that learn differently.”
In addition to those, Oliver hopes other communities on campus are inspired to create their own walking tours.
“I think there’s just so much Indigenous entanglement on campus that there’s so much more to learn,” Oliver said. “That’s the question I pose at the end of it. This is just my walking tour — you’ve got to find your own and write your own.”
Reach writer Natalie Roy at email@example.com. Twitter: @nataliedroy
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