Pitfall #2: Claiming Ownership

Maps reinforce ideas about ownership – both over the ideas and the land represented. When settlers were first colonizing the United States, they used cartography and the authority of a written document to justify displacing indigenous people from their lands. When we create maps about others who have less power as a result of the hundreds of years of oppression, we reenact a historical dialogue that our written, physical, and visual information is more correct than the lived experiences of those people. In the case of the popular Native Land Map shown above, digital scholar Victor Temprano created this map as a way to make archival material more accessible, and as a way to encourage people to think about the use of land acknowledgments in their daily lives. However, when descendants of colonizers use digital maps to “know more about” and “respect the history” of indigenous people, we erase contemporary native communities from the conversation.

Moving forward… Descendants of colonizers should not create “native land maps” because it reinscribes the colonizer as the gatekeeper of official knowledge. More broadly, mapmakers should only map things which they have some personal stake and authority in mapping.

Moving forward… Every time we use a particular map projection to represent the world, we are legitimizing the borders and the relative size of the land forms represented on the map. We ought to be careful about which projection is used where and how national and regional boundaries are drawn so as to avoid reinforcing statements about the importance and relevance of borders. 

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