Indigenous map of Turtle Island in works
A map showing pre-contact North America is currently being developed by Aaron Carapella, an unregistered Cherokee originally from Orange County, California.
“I came up with the idea of doing a Canadian First Nations map because I had been working on and completed a US version,” said Carapella.
He sells the maps, typically to “tribal college professors and museum curators.”
He said he had been working on the US version for about 14 years, since he was 19.
“I actually travelled all over the U.S., not to every reservation, but a couple hundred,” he said. “For Canada, I’ve been to Ontario, but that’s about it.”
He said his research for his Canada map has consisted of phone calls, online and out of book research, and he referred to the Handbook of American Indians. Contacting band members, he said he was frequently forwarded to cultural directors.
He said some of the bigger nations were easier to find information on. When researching the Dene tribe – an indigenous group that stretches from B.C. to west of Nunavut, all the way down to southwestern United States – he said one council member from the Northwest Territories gave him a map of the different territories each of their bands had.
He said the Canadian map is coming along much quicker, and the reason is two-fold.
“I figured out how to streamline the process, and I also put a lot of time into it for the last year or so,” said Carapella. He said the US map project was done on an on again off again basis. “One of the reasons [for taking less time] is that there are less nations in Canada, not by a lot, but there are less.”
Carapella said it’s been quite a task, with lots of challenges along the way. He said he would come to a certain region in his studies and realize he didn’t have any information on the tribe, or he would make phone calls and not get any responses, or have conflicting information.
“Sometimes I physically had to go to a tribe, or a small museum, or visit a certain library archive where I knew the information would be,” said Carapella.
He said his maps are used in exhibitions in museums to show what pre-contact North America looked like from a native perspective.
“A lot of teachers are ordering the version that has the original names and also the given names of what the outsides called our tribes,” he said. “People are able to look up at it on a map and they see their tribe and say, ‘oh, that’s my tribe’, and then they look above it and see what the real name is.”
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