What Native Land in the Americas are you Living on?

  • Native Land Digital developed a map of Indigenous lands across the Americas.
  • The group used written documents, oral history, and native maps as references.
  • The organization aims to strengthen people’s bond with their land and its history.

The Industrial Revolution both strengthened and quickened the grasp of colonialism across the globe. Imperial settlers went above and beyond to win the race of expansion both in and out of Europe. One of the biggest and most powerful of these imperialists was Great Britain, which colonized as much as 25% of the world’s land.

Before the Industrial Revolution, though, North America was one of Great Britain’s colonies. The continent was mainly hidden to Europeans before the apparent arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, and it was the indigenous people who roamed the rich and fertile lands.

Motivated by the continent’s vast wealth, British colonialism had found its next target. By the 1700s, there were as many as 13 British colonies across American land. As a result, the Native Americans slowly but surely lost out to colonial rule. Each treaty increased colonial control and reduced the land for the native Americans.

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It took until 2021 however when President Biden became the first American President to recognize Indigenous People’s Day. Every year on the second Monday of October, people celebrate native history.

On this day, people gather to understand the role of native people in American history. The residents also try to learn the history of the native lands they live on. Amid the renewed celebrations, an Indigenous-led organization is working to facilitate just that.

Native Digital Land created a map that shows Indigenous lands across the continent.

Native Land map
A screenshot of a portion of the interactive map from Native Land Digital shows which Native territories have inhabited different regions of the Americas, based on a variety of historical and indigenous sources. Native Land Digital/Screenshot by NPR

Native Land Digital Map

Navigating the map is simple. Users can explore labels across the American continent to see which tribes lived where. They can conveniently search cities, states, and even zip codes. Additionally, clicking a specific land brings up links to related readings. But that’s not the end of it. Users can find “settler labels” to see native lands corresponding to contemporary borders.

With only a few clicks, users can access a wealth of relevant information tied to any land. Currently, the map is available on iOS, Android, and the organization’s website.

Native Land Digital regularly puts out relevant resources along with the map. With this ease of access, the group hopes to improve the people’s connection with their true history.

“We hope to inspire people. We want to help them understand themselves, their ancestors, and their land. With this knowledge, we all can have a better future,” says the nonprofit organization.

“Territory acknowledgement is a way that people insert an awareness of indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life,” writes the nonprofit. “This is often done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.”

The Challenges

Undeniably, developing something that dives into the past has its complexities. There is an awful lot to consider. Native Land Digital admitted that putting the map together was no easy job. The work encountered a number of ethical and logistical problems.

One of the major issues was defining “indigenous” across time and space. Likewise, it was challenging to reach native communities. “We want them to represent their histories on their own terms,” says the group.

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With many involved, it is easy to imagine the possibility of conflicting ideas. So, to iron out the creases, the group intends to diversify its sources of information. The organization plans to use at least two valid sources for their map. These sources include native-drawn maps, oral history, and written documents.

Still, the group has cautioned that the current map does not accurately represent all indigenous lands. It is still a work in progress.

“We encourage people to use this map for their research. Use it to engage with the natives and the history itself,” the organization says. “The map brings awareness of the lived history of a long reign of colonialism.”

Impact of The Map

The website, can be found here, and was created in 2015. Since then, it has made a direct impact on a large number of people. The indigenous people, in particular, have been pleased to witness their vast lands on standard American maps.

The map offers an unprecedented experience. For many, it is the first-time that the depth and complexity of their native land can be understood. For some, it is a source of discomfort.

Native Land Digital has expressed, “We are secure in knowing that truth is the best teacher. Therefore, provide the best information to help people reach their own conclusions.”

An initiative to help people connect to their past is truly commendable. With time, we could expect to see a map with historically accurate and definitive borders.