Barry Lawrence Ruderman Conference on Cartography 2021: Indigenous Mapping

October 20-22, 2021 at the David Rumsey Map Center


Eric Anderson and Carrie Cornelius, Haskell Indian Nations University

Appreciating Alternative Approaches to Map-Making in Native North America

This presentation broadly surveys several core concepts and examples of indigenous mapping systems that are distinct from and challenge Western notions of cartography.  While both traditions share some commonalities (for example, in offering representational mechanics for understanding our world), Native schema utilized for recognition of physiography and larger categories have often been misunderstood or dismissed as illegitimate forms of science.  

Maps, of course, are symbols, and symbols are culturally specific and driven.  Inherent biases against American Indians built into colonial models of ethnocentrism that have too often influenced education result in missed opportunities to view additional pathways of knowledge with the potential to yield greater avenues of understanding.  Since Native American identity has long been tied to the land itself, we will examine mapping approaches that reckon with, employ, or rely upon various environmental features, including origin beliefs, other-than-human relatives, landmarks, calendrics, and astronomical knowledge.   

With this appreciation of alternate perspectives in mind, suggestions for further research emerge.  Among these are the possibility of decolonizing cartographic modes and assumptions that have not fully engaged with or given credence to how Native North American people view themselves and the world.  At the very least, some new and exciting conversations may be engendered that can lead to more equitable vistas poised to enrich us all.


Marie de Rugy, University of Strasbourg

Commissioning indigenous maps. James G. Scott in Burma

In addition to the information gathered orally (Bayly, Empire and information), the British used, and commissioned, maps on the ground. These provided, at different periods of colonisation, place names, practical information, or the path of a country's pre-existing borders. What place did these maps occupy in the production of cartographic knowledge, especially in the light of the Europeans' scientific methods? Were they treated in the same way as oral information? Did local mapmaking in these territories continue during the colonial period, or did it stop? Were the same maps made before and after the arrival of the Europeans?

Based on indigenous maps collected in British Burma by James George Scott (1851-1935) and kept at the Cambridge University Library, this contribution offers an alternative history of the first years of British colonisation in Upper Burma in the 1880s and 1890s. The entangled scripts (Chinese characters, Shan, Burmese and English) as well as the materiality and the visual codes of these documents bring into view forms of contact that did not last long. Contextualising these maps with other kinds of sources, including Scott’s diaries and administrative reports, allows us to reconstruct their production as part of processes of intelligence gathering and frontier settlement. By tracing the more or less willing role of Burmese clerks, guides and interpreters in the cartographic processes implemented by the English on the ground, we can reintroduce these actors into a history of cartography that has long been Eurocentric. Doing so reveals how the British had to rely on indigenous knowledge to control a territory quite unknown to them during the early years of colonisation.


Vicente Diaz, University of Minnesota

Toward an Indigenous Cartography with Micronesian Seafaring Alterity in Mni Sota Makoce

Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, scholars from multiple disciplines have explored the radical potentialities of traditional open-ocean voyaging from the Central Carolinian region in Micronesia for innovating cultural, political, historical and critical analyses. Among the signature features of seafaring’s imagined alterity are fully-embodied, multi-sensory engagement and immersion in ecological knowledge, spatializing practices that posit mobile islands, stationary canoes, and radical and co-constitutive relations of kinship and reciprocity among human, land, water, and sky forms, and other-than-human beings. To be sure, the survival of Central Carolinian seafaring culture’s technical abilities and its extensive ecological knowledge, as well as seafaring’s broader revival across the Pacific, have been among the most potent elements of cultural and political resurgence in, as well as critical scholarship from, the Pacific Islands.   Taking advantage of a roomful of cartographers, this paper extends seafaring culture’s radical alterit(ies) to propose something like an indigenous Carolinian ‘cartography’ based on non-Cartesian (even non-Newtonian) space (and matter) by presenting the fundamentals of indigenous seafaring and extending their practice to a case study of indigenous canoe culture and voyaging knowledge “revitalization” among diasporic Micronesians in Dakota homelands, waters, and skies in present-day rural Minnesota. What would such a remapped cartography – and interrelated conceptions of human and island ‘territoriality’ -- do to and for mapmaking and its study?


Alex Hidalgo, Texas Christian University

Study of a Mutilated Map: Indigenous Cartography Out of Context

Histories of Indigenous maps from early colonial Mexico have traditionally focused on the study of pictorial illustrations and the meaning of lines and symbols used to express place, geography, and objects. But the analysis that has resulted from this line of inquiry traditionally centers on the way Nahua, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Maya painters incorporated or rejected Western ideas and culture, as well as on how they gradually lost or preserved Mesoamerican pictorial strategies over time. Inevitably, a history of displacement emerges at the end of the sixteenth century that sees Indigenous mapping enter into full decline, reappearing on occasion (generally without much success) in a cheap version of its former self to help mitigate encroachment.  The map of Our Lady of the Rosary, an eighteenth-century depiction of lands of the Mixtec town of Santa María Atzompa in the Valley of Oaxaca, fits neatly into the latter category.  Except that beyond its original use as a record designed to help establish territorial boundaries, the map continued to feature in the cultural, social, and political spheres of the town well into the twenty-first century when it disappeared from view.  This talk reframes the discussion of Indigenous cartography by considering the way maps move through time.  What can the various lives of a handmade eighteenth-century map tell us about archiving traditions, ritual, and social memory?  What does the mobility of the map reveal about the history of jealousy, anger, and retribution?  How do market forces and aesthetics shape our understanding of Indigenous knowledge? 


Marcia Kembeba, Federal University of Pará

The Omagua/Kambeba Trajectory from the 16th Century to the 21st Century: Mapping own history and the legacy of the colonialism

The struggle of indigenous peoples for their territories brings many painful memories, from Contact to the present day. The indigenous peoples did not know borders, demarcation of lands and fences that sect territories, etc.; all this came with Contact. 

The Omagua/Kambeba, once one of the most important indigenous groups established between the Solimões and Negro rivers of the Amazon border, still provide rich historical and ethnographic documentation. That is due to their cultural particularities: their physical and clothing appearance, distinct from the other neighboring ethnic groups, and their adaptation to a specific and geographically limited environment: the floodplain of the Upper Amazon. The Omagua/Kambeba formed together with the Kokama, who still inhabit the Ucayali basin, and Tupi-Guarani groups displaced to the Upper Amazon.

The Kambeba currently continue to make their migrations on a smaller scale between the city and villages. They search for recognition of their territories that are not only physical but memorial, identity, and sacred. Thus, the territory and memory are the patrimonies of the living. Their lands are marked by the struggles and violence faced to stand in these long years of walking, searching for the Land without evil. 

For instance, the village Turucari Uka has approximately 56 people totaling 12 families in a small remnant territory. However, the area is still enough to have a forest area with hardwoods and a river called Samauma, where they share stories through maps, stories, and poetry. 

My talk will discuss the historical and cartographical importance of the Kambeba in Amazonia. Also, I will address how colonization impacted their migrations and, using ethnographic material, such as mental maps made by community members, how these territorial processes of migration and reconquest of traditional places are represented and revisited today.  


Rudo Kemper, Digital Democracy

Mapping Indigenous territory during a pandemic: experiences in remotely supporting community in doing participatory mapping work

The COVID-19 pandemic brought countless global processes to a screeching halt, and the work of Indigenous and other marginalized communities to protect their lands in remote areas was no exception. As the virus spread across the globe, communities found themselves shifting priorities to scrambling to close airfields and dealing with the tragic loss of their elders. 

As time passed, though, many communities returned to vitally important land protector work like mapping and monitoring, the importance of which further underscored by opportunistic land invasions by those seeking to take advantage of the pandemic situation. Meanwhile, for those of us at NGOs who work in solidarity with these communities as allies, the pandemic introduced a different problem: being unable to travel to the field to give workshops, trainings, and other close accompaniment.

After numerous failed attempts to make fieldwork happen, at Digital Democracy we found ourselves trying to make participatory mapping with our partners happen in the now-ubiquitous reality of meeting remotely and familiar grid boxes of video conferencing software. However, after some time and several remote trainings, mapping projects using tools like Mapeo really took off locally, with train-the-trainer processes succeeding in remarkable ways.

This prompted us to raise important questions, with methodological implications for community mapping that extend beyond pandemic: was there an increase in the level of autonomy and ownership in the communities taking on the training and participatory mapping process directly, precisely because we were not able to implement the usual model of in-person trainings and fieldwork to kick things off? What are the other conditions that make this kind of remote accompaniment model viable and perhaps more successful? And what should be the best practices in doing this kind of work moving forward, during and post-pandemic?

In this presentation, I will share lessons learned and experiences from my work in remotely accompanying communities in Kenya, Ecuador, and Canada.


Edson Krenak, University of Vienna and Cultural Survival

How to Map my Body: Legal Imagination, Indigenous Activism, and Using Maps as Weapons

During the first centuries of colonialism in Brazil (XVI-XVII), indigenous peoples were represented in a pictorial and “exotic” way. Their symbolic and geographical depiction by the colonial power illustrated the economic, political, and cultural endeavors of the Portuguese Crown. After the Pombaline geopolitics of the 18th century (1750-1777), the cartographic representation of indigenous peoples practically disappeared. This marked the beginning of the social and political invisibility of the native peoples inhabiting the lowlands of the New World. The cartographic invisibility of indigenous peoples is part of the historical process of assimilation and violence that the spatial practice of the Brazilian State has imposed on indigenous peoples. Currently, the struggle for the demarcation of territories and recognition of the right to land is particularly arduous due to the ongoing absence of indigenous representation in the political and geographical maps of the country.

In response to this situation, the indigenous movement has been using and modifying maps as instruments for activism and advocacy. These forms of emergent indigenous cartography thus mobilize new spatial practices, methodologies, and ontologies. The Munduruku people, for instance, see their body-territory as constituent of the cosmological continuum of their world. Therefore, the self-demarcation of territory, as well as body-painting and narratives can be regarded as intricate performances of a counter-cartography aiming at visibility and confrontation.  

This article analyzes Munduruku cartography, called Mapa da Vida, The Map of life, comparing them with other forms of Amerindian cartography, in order to discuss how the emergent indigenous cartography in South America navigates the complex legal and political landscape. 


Julie MacArthur, University of Toronto Mississauga

Mobile Spaces: Indigenous Mapping and the Conquest of Eastern Africa

Cartography has long been defined through the opposition of fixity and mobility. Colonial cartography worked to affix populations to particular territories and vilified practices of mobility as aterritorial and uncivilized. Mobility, however, not only often constituted relationships between space, time, and bodies, but moreover served as a critical counter-mapping strategy. In this paper, I will explore mobile mapping practices in Eastern Africa, with particular focus on the Somali populations throughout the Horn of Africa. For Somalis, mobility mapped spaces of belonging, obligation, and sovereignty, that far from impermanent rather reflected a multiplicity of spaces and ability to adapt to environmental, social, and political needs. The shifting northern frontier between colonial Kenya and Italian Somaliland proved particularly resistant to colonial mapping and governance practices. Somalis not only provided crucial knowledge and labor to colonial mapping projects, but also unsettled colonial geographies through counter-mapping strategies: place-names that revealed alternative histories and spatial knowledge; embodied practices, spatial narratives, and visual cultures; calculated withholding, refusal, and outright subversion; and decolonial alternative geographies that continue to unsettle borders and state-making into the present. 


Joshua Manitowabi, Brock University

Mapping Anishinaabe Kendaaswin: Land, Truth, and Treaties through Oral History

Maps have traditionally been used to situate a people in a spatial area to graphically represent aspects of their culture. However, historical cartography had colonialist biases and misrepresented Indigenous peoples’ views of their territory, their cultural knowledge, and their histories. Colonial mapping in general have often portrayed Anishinaabe people as static and uncivilized and thus distorted their traditional territory as empty landscapes that were available for occupation. This served the interests of colonial powers as these lands were then acquired through European/Indigenous treaty relations. 

Treaties with Indigenous peoples have been misrepresented in this same context, as nation to nation relationships that no longer evolve. How can critical cartography demonstrate and visually represent the ongoing treaty relationships which are in constant flux? Treaties with people, animals, plants, and water creatures are embedded within Anishinaabe oral history (dibaajmowin). This presentation will envision how decolonial mapping can portray treaty relations with the land, water and sky through the Dish With One Spoon Wampum treaty. It will also demonstrate through storytelling how Anishinaabe occupancy of Odawa Mnis is ongoing. Interactive mapping will be examined for its potential to address the limitations of static mapping in presenting an accurate Anishinaabe perspective. I will examine mapping strategies that incorporate traditional ways of imparting knowledge, such as storytelling and oral history. From the user’s perspective, this type of modern technology for constructing digital maps can offer alternative perspectives of Indigenous cultural representations while simultaneously providing new insights within contested areas of space between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.


Peter Martin, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

The Cartography of Kallihirua?: Inughuit Abduction and Indigenous Map Making

In 1850 an expedition was dispatched by the British Admiralty in search of the missing ships Erebus and Terror. While travelling along the North Greenlandic coastline, the officers of this expedition came into contact with members of the Inughuit community. During this encounter, an Inuk named Kallihirua was persuaded to join the expedition in order to assist the travellers as they continued the search for their missing compatriots. As part of this assistance, Kallihirua was asked to draw a map that would help to guide the ships along the Greenlandic coast. Following the (unsuccessful) completion of the expedition, this map was reproduced and was later included in a guide on ‘Arctic Geography and Ethnology’ that was published by the Royal Geographical Society and presented to George Nares in preparation for his subsequent 1875–76 Arctic expedition.

Drawing on recent literature exploring the concept of indigenous mapping, this paper will examine the troubling circumstances that surrounded this intriguing ‘cartographic encounter.’ It will study the problematic events which led to the drawing of these two maps and will consider the ways in which they were subsequently presented and circulated. It will also reflect upon the extent to which historical indigenous cosmologies were commensurate with non-indigenous cartographic traditions. The paper will therefore conclude by arguing that while Kallihirua certainly did contribute various types of geographical knowledge during this expedition, to label him as the sole author of these maps would be a problematic act of ‘cartographic ventriloquism’. 


Takerei Norton, Kā Huru Manu

Kā Huru Manu: My names are the treasured cloak which adorns the land

Kā Huru Manu is a digital atlas (www.kahurumanu.co.nz) dedicated to recording and mapping the traditional Māori place names and associated histories of the Ngāi Tahu tribe. Ngāi Tahu is a Māori iwi (tribe) that covers approximately 80% of Te Waipounamu (the South Island of New Zealand). The online atlas has been compiled together by the Ngāi Tahu Archive, tribal communities and kaumātua (elders) over the last fifteen years, and is based on the work of previous generations. The digital atlas includes 1200 traditional Māori place names, the traditional Māori travel routes, and the original Māori reserves allocated within the Ngāi Tahu region. Kā Huru Manu is making this traditional knowledge readily accessible to Ngāi Tahu families and the wider public for the first time. In 2018 the New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa - New Zealand’s national place naming authority - acknowledged Kā Huru Manu as an authoritative publication based on Ngāi Tahu having systematically and methodically identified, collected, and verified our traditional place names. Kā Huru Manu has also become an important educational resource used by schools to teach local Ngāi Tahu history and place names, and is an integral component of the Ngāi Tahu archival search engine making Ngāi Tahu knowledge accessible to Ngāi Tahu families.


Andre Reyes Novaes, Rio de Janeiro State University

Indigenous Maps in the Historiography of Brazilian Explorations

The study of Indigenous Maps prompted fundamental questions for map history. The definitions and categories used to approach these artefacts could express different frameworks to understand cartography and exploration. Addressing the history of approaches to the definition of ‘indigenous maps’, this paper explores a set of documents debated by Brazilian and Portuguese scholars during the 1940s and the 1950s. In the historiography of Brazilian explorations, Indigenous knowledge was often highlighted as a fundamental source of techniques to provide food, shelter, guidance and displacement. However, the indigenous contribution to mapping techniques and representational practices raised controversies among some scholars, considering the challenge of defining precise borders between what is western and what is indigenous. Many of these controversies concerned the Portuguese scholar Jaime Cortesão and the Brazilian historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda. Living in Brazil since 1940, Jaime Cortesão was hired by the National Library of Rio de Janeiro in 1946. His main task was to comment on the Angelis collection, a group of 1.533 documents and maps sold by the Italian-born politician Pedro De Angelis for the Brazilian Emperor Pedro II in 1853. By exploring these documents, Jaime Cortesão found traces of indigenous participation in mapping practices at the Brazilian borders, and his findings were presented in speeches, books, and newspaper articles. The Brazilian historian Sérgio Buarque de Holanda became one of the main interlocutors of Cortesão, debating the category 'indigenous maps' also using the Angelis collection. By revisiting documents from the National Library of Rio de Janeiro that stimulated debates on 'indigenous maps', this paper approaches the history of this category, searching for insights to define indigenous maps as hybrid images and artefacts of encounters.