I have released what I believe is the only freely available comprehensive digital map of the native peoples of North America. While you can check it out below, you should see it full screen on the main project page, where you can use the opacity slider in the upper-left to see where you are in relation to current boundaries: nativesofnorthamerica.org. The project is open for anyone to participate and edit. The goal of the project is to eventually have a map that is as accurate as possible, and a mapstory that shows how their geography changed over time. This will be integrated into MapStory Local, a larger effort to map all of human settlement through time.

Until now, a comprehensive map of any given time only shows the non-Native nations and jurisdictions, often as if the native peoples did not exist. This has been a dismal state of affairs which I hope this can begin to solve. The way we have been mapping the Americas gives no balance or respect for the people that have the oldest ancestry to the lands, and is a case in point of the trend that history is written by the winners. As we all have a shared history, it is time to tell it as such.

Part of the reason that people have not included native groups on maps, besides the fact that they were deliberately disregarded, was the fact that they did not have the same political conventions that delineated boundaries as Europeans had (which in turn also contributed to Europeans disregarding their claims to land). We have done some work in creating mapstories – the only comprehensive one being US reservations, which were precisely delineated by the US government. This map is to make a point of showing the 500 or so native peoples of North America as if they were mutually exclusive nations as you see on maps today. In reality, as opposed to the nation-state system that is ubiquitous today, it is typical for groups to be intermingled or for their boundaries to be constantly shifting as they may have in cases had less settled lifestyles. People will need to greatly refine the map, and it would be great to create a variety maps that are styled differently.

This map was traced from a magnificent National Geographic map from 1999, which was in turn derived from maps in the volumes of the Handbook of North American Indians. It is my hope that anyone who was involved with creating the maps this is based on will see that this is a valuable expansion of their work, only contributing to what they have done. National Geographic can for example use the data generated by the project to underlie more of their maps in the future. Few people can cross the beauty of National Geographic maps; the data only provides a structure, not the aesthetics of how it is represented, which is what will always make their maps valuable.

The map essentially shows the contours of groups at the time each were first encountered by Europeans, as detailed in written records. Eventually, a mapstory will show each native people appear at the time of their first records, along with every change in their geography, so that one can see how they changed over time. This will of course be a massive task that will be crowdsourced. If someone spent a few hours on each group, it would be a full time job for a year. It would be valuable work however for a researcher or graduate student that could be funded. As with any project like this, a place to start will be to scan, georeference and digitize as many maps as possible. The Handbook of North American Indians details the settlements of each group going back as far as there are records, and maps them over time. A lot of work has already been done on various groups, which can be added and merged into everything. I have found a great deal of fascinating mapping work that has been done on the Bajoxe (Ioway), the native tribe my state is named after; I will be contacting the people who did the mapping soon and creating a mapstory of the group, integrating it into an overall mapstory.

Bajoxe (Ioway) Tribe Map, GIS

I have been no exception to the problems I have mentioned, and hopefully now that will change. Most of the work I’ve been doing with MapStory Local has been focused on the United States, and every mapstory I’ve been creating shows the settlement of places as if there were no people there before. This has made me feel uneasy, and I didn’t want to be another person that is not providing the respect and balance to history that is necessary. I recently created a map of all the land patents in the State of Iowa, which shows the precise settlement of private property in the whole state (according to what is recognized by the federal government). I will eventually mix this and the mapstory of the Bajoxe together, so that they are integrated. The problem is, mapping all the land patents takes a day, because thousands of hours have already been spent by the federal government in digitizing them; there is little that has been done of Natives, and what has been done is scattered, which this will hopefully change with this and other projects.

As I mentioned, anyone can participate in the project – you can contribute directly with the github project I set up: https://github.com/nittyjee/Natives-of-North-America. While there is no order to mapping, and people can engage in this project however they want, for me, what would be great is if the map allowed people to click on any group and open up a wikipedia article in a separate tab. It would also be good to cycle through each group, with wikipedia and the Handbook of North American Indians, and find the first dates that the group were known to exist, and write them in a spreadsheet, which can be used to create a mapstory of the map. Of course, this would be somewhat contentious, as groups have their own histories, which should be taken seriously (and people can create their own versions as well if there is disagreement or people want to express differing points of view). In the same spreadsheet, there should also be the names that native peoples themselves used for their groups. Often the names of groups are even derogatory, something that desperately needs to be fixed. A similar project was created by Aaron Carapella (http://tribalnationsmaps.com/), which is detailed in the very inspiring video below. In the long run, as I believe MapStory Local will be a go-to source of historical mapping, the natives of North America will be integrated seamlessly alongside other peoples and cultures, and we will rewrite history using the democratizing medium of the internet.