#Roadsidemarker Series: an Interview with Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

Elsa Hoover

Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant’s #roadsidemarker series is a personal archive that considers the spatial implications of memorial markers and political signage. As a Tuscarora scholar of Native American and indigenous studies at the University at Buffalo, Dr. Mt. Pleasant’s travel draws her along the highways and backroads of New York State, which has been contested space for over 200 years—and her people’s homeland for much longer.

A 2017 interview between Dr. Mt. Pleasant and myself (an architect) brought this project into architecture’s orbit. #roadsidemarker series’ historical lens, archival approach, and biographical qualities create important points of reference and discussion for architects and spatial thinkers. For the last 18 years, Dr. Mt. Pleasant has watched—and now photographed—signs playing out a microcosmic fight over the future of these lands through historical representation, a fight occurring simultaneously in judicial, academic, public, and commercial spaces along these roads.

This includes:

  • historical markers recalling the violent Sullivan Campaign and land surveys directed by Gen. George Washington (what native people here remember as the invasion);
  • towns, parks, roads, and other places named in ways that represent a long-standing anxiety toward indigenous presence; and
  • political signs contesting the Cayuga Nation’s litigation and earlier landmark legal fight by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to reclaim land in the region between the 1970s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

History is directed through physical remembrance along the highways of the Haudenosaunee homeland, some of which is called Upstate New York. Contemporary legal battles resurrect the invasion—and with it a zombified history told by parts, reanimated and made to walk the highway. The spatial experience generated by these signs and their documentation are sites of indigenous memory work that make room for future visual practice by indigenous designers, builders, and communities.