πŸ“ Wilderness is more than a Space Untouched

Talking about St. Matthew Island in Alaska, Sarah Gilman reflects on what it means for a space to be designated as a ‘wilderness’.

Many people think of wilderness as a place mostly untouched by humans; the United States defines it this way in law. This idea is a construct of the recent colonial past. Before European invasion, Indigenous peoples lived in, hunted in, and managed most of the continent’s wild lands. St. Matthew’s archipelago, designated as official wilderness in 1970, and as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in 1980, would have had much to offer them, too: freshwater lakes teeming with fish, many of the same plants that mainland cultures ate, ample seabirds and marine mammals to hunt. And yet, because St. Matthew is so far-flung, the solitary pit house suggests that even Alaska’s expert seafaring Indigenous peoples may never have been more than accidental visitors here. Others who’ve followed have arrived with the help of significant infrastructure or institutions. None remained long.

It is interesting to think of this alongside the discussion of the city and rather than being ‘untouched’, maybe it is ‘uncontrolled’?

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