Reclaiming our names: The Tribal Nations Maps project
The Tribal Nations Maps are a unique collection of maps of pre-contact and at-contact native nations across the hemisphere that are considered the most comprehensive to date, with roughly 3,000 self-identified names (including common tribal names) in the traditional languages.
The list of available maps include: Alaska, American Indian Reservations, Canada, Carribbean, Central America, Mexico, Native America, Regional US Maps, South America, Southern Hemisphere, Special Run Maps, Texas, Tribal Nations, and Western Hemisphere.
Xica Nation recently had the pleasure of conducting an exclusive interview with Aaron Carapella, creator of the Tribal Nations Maps series, about the project, his journey, and his experience with the broader Xicanx Mexicanx community.
You mention in your About page that you have been on a search for this information since you were a small child. What was the defining moment or spark in your life that drove you to action to document this information?
I think that one of the defining moments was when I was at a City Hall meeting in Seal Beach, California at age 15. I was a member of a group called Save Puvungna, which was advocating for Juaneno and Gabrieleno sacred sites to be protected from development. These city hall members were citing the fact that the Tribal people there were not federally-recognized , and so therefore their requests to protect a village site from home development was somehow less important than if they had been from a federally-recognized Tribe. These Tribal people had to go through the California Heritage Commission to get their village protected, jumping through hoops to prove who they were. This was eye-opening to me. It made me realize that the US government for all intents and purposes had literally written their People off the map.
Have you encountered any unexpected surprises or epiphanies on your journey to create these maps?
I have found the linguistic and cultural connections among Nations throughout the Hemisphere very interesting. There are some cultural groups that stretch from Alaska to Mexico, and some that are isolated to just a couple of modern-day counties. I didn’t realize when starting this project that I would find names of literally thousands of distinct tribal and cultural groups.
Your work embodies vast distances and spans across time. That you are moved to produce these works in this moment, given the tense social context of the U.S. in 2016, is significant. Have you noticed any trends in terms of which states/areas statistically show a higher rate of interest/traffic?
I notice that West Coast states in the US, as well as British Columbia in Canada tend to purchase my maps at a higher rate, although I sell them all over the world. Interestingly there are a lot of Natives who live overseas who purchase my maps for presentations in places like Germany, the UAE, Japan, etc.
Have the modern erroneous labels (such as Latino/Hispanic) for our detribalized populations ( Mexican Americans ) affected this body of work? If so, how?
Yes, many Mexican-Americans specifically order these from me to find out the Nations from the area where their families originated. I make it a point to mention that Native blood is the predominant one in the people of Mexico and in most of Latin America, and also the fact that terms like Hispanic/Latino are misnomers that lead people to self-hatred and denial of identity. The “Raza” concept has led many families across “Latin America” to lose a tribal identity, all the while they retain their Native features and many cultural habits. It is interesting that here in the U.S. there are people with CDIB cards tracing minute ancestry as low as 1/8900th ( Cherokee Nation tribal member) , with hundreds of thousands of members being less than 1/8th, while our southern neighbors are often nearly-full Native with no information about which Tribes they descend from. We cannot allow the colonizer mentality to stop us from our quest to learn the Truth about ourselves.
Roughly what time frame(s) do these maps encompass?
These are “living maps”, meaning that they are not set in a static time period. They represent the last known homelands that Tribes defended pre-reservation period….placing Nations on a map is very precarious and sensitive so this is not even the case with all Tribes shown-but I felt it was important to have a visual display to combat the many stereotypical maps that are out there that show only a few dozen Nations, and which utilize colonizer names.
How can the public support this work?
Recently I have started a crowdfunding campaign to get a Tribal map in every high school in the State of Virginia: https://www.gofundme.com/tribalnationsmaps
It has been very successful. I also would like to let your readers know that I am very open to suggestions about possible missing Tribes, variations of name spellings, etc. As time goes on there are more and more Tribes placed across the Hemisphere, and I am documenting my sources in a free bibliography that is on my website: www.tribalnationsmaps.com