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Indigenous Placemaking in the Marshallese Climate Diaspora

In the Anthropocene, climate change forced displacement and resettlement threatens the continuity of Indigenous cultures and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) across the globe. As sea level rise, receding glaciers, increased severity of drought, and the increased frequency and severity of tropical storms threaten the habitability of vulnerable lands, Indigenous communities will be forced to migrate. Urban centers will likely be the location of the climate diaspora.

In the study Dr. Miller brings to question the embodiment of IKS in the transnational diaspora and asks the question: How is IKS maintained without a direct connection to ancestral lands? The study approaches these research questions through the concept of the habitus and the methodological framework of the case study. Within growing transnational networks of communities facing climate change impacts, the aim of the study is to understand how IKS is maintained through placemaking. The study examines the existing diasporas of transnational Indigenous populations threatened by climate forced displacement in order to understand how Indigenous Knowledge is being used in the production of culturally supportive built environments.

The focus of the research project is diasporic Marshallese communities, who are facing climate forced displacement due to sea level rise. Implementing a multi-sited case study approach, Dr. Miller’s research project will examine the role of Indigenous Knowledge in the production of the built environment of the Marshallese diaspora in Hawaii and Arkansas, which represent the largest Marshallese populations outside of the Marshall Islands.



The hypothesis of the study is that Indigenous Design Knowledge produces culturally supportive built environments within the diasporic communities of Indigenous populations facing climate forced displacement and resettlement. Additional research questions ask: What is the interchange of Indigenous Design Knowledge and placemaking, and how is the relationship altered by climate change and increased inhabitability of sending communities. How does the transportation of Indigenous design knowledge occur, and how can it be leveraged in aiding the continuity of Indigenous cultures in the production of a supportive built environment.


Working from an Oceania Epistemology, the study examines the implications of Indigenous Design Knowledge on cultural resilience through processes of Marshallese placemaking and construction of their built-environment. Co-creative qualitative methods will be employed in line with Indigenous Methodologies in order to prioritize the communities as knowledge holders.

Theoretical Contributions

Indigenous Knowledge is central to the process of inclusive urban development, drawing from a post-development critique of sustainable development practices (Escobar 2008; Gupta and Ferguson 1997; Jacka 2015). Lastly, within the transnational processes, it considers the relationship between placemaking in the sending communities and the receiving communities (Hou 2013; Lopez 2014) and the implications these processes have on the resilience of Indigenous Knowledge (Jacka 2015; Lewis and Kelman 2010; Sudmeier-Riieux 2014). To reiterate, the theoretical understanding for the production of the Habitus and its resilience make up the underlying theoretical framework.



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