The Blurred Boundaries of Indigenous Lands

Geolocation has increased the number of claims by extractive industries through remote sensing, and especially over indigenous lands. Yet the tools of crowd-sourced mapping and have also provided counter-maps of the industries that have increased claims of access to the resources buried in lands to which indigenous groups have ancestral claims, offering an ethical redress of the lost of lands indigenous have roundly suffered from the uninvited Anglo settlers of North America–and the lack of any search for consent from longtime inhabitants in ongoing questions of land use decisions that are of increasing importance in an era of shifting ecological niches and ecosystems by pollution, independent from global warming.

What might it be like to map from the other side, as it were, less in terms of land claims of property than inviting a greater negotiation of the land use with the longstanding use of land that indigenous communities have often long used? Maps that might preserve the memory of past use in which indigenous communities not only live, but have long dwelled, might be able to better see those lands as part and parcel of a sense of self, long obliterated or erased from earlier maps, whose content we would do well to interrogate and examine in terms of the erasure of earlier land claims. As Thanksgiving becomes a time to seek deeper truths than are evident in the map of acknowledged tribal lands, or the violence of the longstanding aims of eliminating the presence of indigenous from the map. For many indigenous in North America, Thanksgiving is better known in indigenous communities as a National Day of Mourning, the displacement of indigenous land claims from the current maps of nations has offered little space to negotiate land rights.

Yet the opportunity to map a persuasive representation of past land use has provided a new cartography akin to a pharmakon, remedying the erasure of indigenous presence in crowd-sourced remapping platforms, whose overlapping boundaries of tribal space may derive part of its compelling power and increased impetus from the erosion of “boundaries” in the mapping of the nation state,–if not of the integrity of the nation state as a semantic unit of clear bounds. Might the platform that promotes a sense of the blurred nature of indigenous space on be more than a purely virtual representation of an affective relation to the lost title to lands, but eventually be effective in giving rise to something new in the shifting structure of the nation state, where the place and space of indigenous inhabitation deserves increased prominence than it has long had? As the nation wrestles with its troubled pasts, and the ethics as well as objectivity of mapping space, as well as the danger of environmental devastation on several fronts, the resource of NativeLands opens new questions of how we understand our relation to the land, and the place of engaging indigenous inhabitants in collective decisions of land use, from the leasing of mineral rights to the potential devastation of oil pipelines and energy transport, or underground fracking and petroleum prospecting. It might be a way of using the very tools of geodetic mapping that extractive energy has profited so much to create a new forum for interrogating land use, and empowering indigenous communities as stake-holders to questions of property from which they were long excluded.

Western North America/Native-Land

The attempts to crowd source a layer of the boundaries of indigenous land claims on, noteworthy as suggesting a new ethics of mapping, both with a clear historical online apparatus that serves as a dynamic legend, and the refreshing colors of a distinct cartographic palette of light lavender, green, violent, and yellow that broadens the divides of territorial claims sharply-edged cartography of the past. The oddly open space in these maps are not legally binding–or rooted in law–but offer a poignant and indeed healing cartographic pharmakon of ghost-like claims we are currently learning to negotiate with the lines of jurisdiction or sovereignty inherited from the past. While the web map is finally turned to only in §8-14 of this post–perhaps a section that deserves to be its own post!–the time-laden nature of obscuring native or indigenous claims are examined as a cognitive problem and historical project in earlier sections, turning to the complex place of indigenous in California’s formation as a state, before the Native Land maps are examined as a productive undoing of the historical violence worked by the marginalization of native land claims–effectively a cartographic distortion and omission that has deep logic and cunning roots.

For mapping, and all mapping, fascinates as an ethical project of knowing, as much as for its accuracy and persuasive form. If all mapping is time-bound, this remapping of land claims is not based on erasure of settler sovereignty, but an opportunity for deeper dialogue with the past–and with the relation of maps to remembering–that might offer a way to produce a responsible acknowledgement of the difficulties of the notion of sovereignty, and indeed. a new way of negotiating the fraught history of the past maps predicated on a logic of displacing native or indigenous inhabitants, and eradicating indigenous land claims.

1. The recent emergence of web-based tools and maps attempt to counter increased dangers of encroaching upon ancestral claims, by offering tools that might effectively empower indigenous claims if not to legally binding records of sovereign space, of the inhabitation of lands that property maps often elide. The many treaties of land–and history of land cessions–that have reduced North American indigenous land claims have found a powerful response to try to address, if not to meet the devastating precision with which remote sensing and geolocation tools have provided indices for extracting minerals, mining, and drilling for petroleum, if not in a legally recognized form, by providing powerful set of tools for asserting and envisioning the deep historical value of lands increasingly at risk of irreversible ecological and environmental damage.

For the very cartographic tools that have helped international petrochemical corporations to target lands valued for mineral production have helped to shaped a discourse on the land’s value that undercut local claims to sovereignty, specters of extractive industries’ deep desire to possess the targeted energy reserves. While we see these maps as pinpointing mineral claims with precision that might allow extraction of underground reserves, it would be better to learn to regard the map of claims as akin to an ecological haunting of North America, disrupting not only settled modern treaties with indigenous peoples in Canada, but disrupting the longstanding claims of historical inhabitation of lands by those who long conserved them, a conflict of two geographies that, globally, is steaming to a head in the twentieth century, as global claims risk obscuring the local claims of the custody and preservation of historic claims: an entanglement of overturned treaties, renegotiated sites of mining and mineral extraction, and actively negotiated land claims, the map is not a record of spatial knowledge, but also something of a historically determined palimpsest, if urgency of locating energy reserves for collective good risk flattening the rich historical record in the search for petrodollars.

The abrogation of treaties is nothing new to the history of indigenous claims from the nineteenth century to ancestal lands, but the heightening of debates in recent years accompanies the expanded scale of destruction of mining and the logic of geolocation of mineral deposits from remote sensing, leading to a growing number of claims removed from treaties that were intended to preserve a site–see the range of claims eagerly made on land in Bears Ears!–in a mad scramble to unlock mineral resources buried under the land.

Land Claims for Mineral Reserves (Red); Federally Recognized Indigenous Possessions (Black); Historical and Modern Treaties (Green and Tan Overlays)

If land has been allocated or reallocated for energy extraction in recent years, the definition of mineral reserves echo the “doctrine of discovery” that defined the boundaries and ownership of land long occupied by naive or indigenous inhabitants has posed questions of the existence of proofs to prior claims–the basis for staking indigenous claims. The very existence of large numbers of oil and mineral deposits across the Canadian north coincide most problematically with marginalizing indigenous knowledge claims, raising questions, as Global Forest Watch has helped us visualize, of the conflict between resolved treatises and expanding land claims being negotiated to access mineral deposits, most of which lie in areas covered by abrogated historical treaties. While the language and logic of extraction depends on the localization of mineral deposits on isolated points, boundaries, and edges, the blurring of maps of ancestral lands first in Canada, and now globally, posses a shift in perspective on the bounding of appropriated space that upsets the logic abstracting property claims from a historical context.

 Indigenous communities (Red), Intact Ecological areas (Dark Blue) and Intact Forest (Light BLue) Layer. Image: Artelle et al. (2019)/Science Direct

Indeed, the tabulation and mapping of Reserves, First Nation Settlement Lands, Inuit Owned Lands, Tlicho Lands, Inuvialuit Lands, Gwich’in Lands, and Sahtu Lands offers a dynamic mapping of “aboriginal lands” absorbed into the commonwealth at an earlier era–local land claims challenged and intact landscapes challenged by the globalization conundrum of the corporate and often national elevation of “global” over local needs.

The increased demand to reconcile nationally recognized indigenous land claims and ancestral lands poses something of an epistemic and a political challenge for the twenty-first century, unable to be recognized by purely cartographic terms, but which cartographic contrast promoted by indigenous-led claims for local governance and land-use have put into relief as an ongoing engagement. The parallel existence of these different geographies suggest a coming crisis in the need to resolve limited recognition of federally recognized claims with the existence of an increasingly visible collective call for recognizing ancestral lands, now crowd sourced on the vibrant webmaps of Tribal Lands, maps that suggest the far greater haunting of nations by the seizure of indigenous lands on which they were founded.

Federally Recognized Claims to Indigenous Land in Canada/Crowd Sourced Boundaries,

If the allegedly limited scope of lands federally recognized in Canada–while far more expansive than in the United States, a mere .2% of the territory of the expansive nation to the north–

Federally Recognized Indigenous Land Claims

–the spectral nature of indigenous nations that has been mapped on demands to be seen as haunting the nation on the day of American Thanksgiving, and provides an entree of sources to turning to some serious introspection on the territorial configuration of the

Native Land Map of Ancestral Lands

Indeed, as we move to living in a globalized economy that places a premium on logics of extraction, recorded and determined by remote sensing form satellite space, maps of mineral resources threatens to alienate traditional knowledge claims across a global setting.

The pressing crisis of mapping indigenous lands seeks to balance the claims mad in maps privileging “discovery” of and extraction in the petroleum industry’s identification of oil deposits over and above local land claims that has threatened the erosion of ecosystems in huge swaths of formerly forested lands that eerily parallel the reduction of native land claims in Canada to bu .2% of the nation, in ways that force us to come to terms with the role of maps in vacating native claims to land ownership and land-use.

The story did not begin in any way with the global demand for energy extraction that is all too often phrased in gilded terms as “energy independence,” even if this “independence” is primarily for the wealthy extractive industries. Maps help sell plans for energy extraction to the public in suitably patriotic terns as a “freedom” from global energy markets, confirming the recognition of the rich “basins” of sediment at home and offshore, as if it awaited the bravery of a scratch-‘n’-sniff scraping of their color-coded surfaces might easily reveal its oily petroleum odors that would cascade to a populist demand for cheaper prices at the pump.

Crain’s Petrophysical handbook/Oil and Gas in Canada

Although the map below shows the extent to which mineral claims lie in the boundaries of Canada’s boreal forest, the conflicting claims of property rights that appeared long settled in historical or modern treaties seem punctured by the speckling of claims that suggest an intense competition for legal recognition of mineral claims. It might understood as imposing a distinct logics to understand space, one covered by ceded land, and one covered by a sharp-edged rationality of geolocation, rooted in a geography of extraction that takes global markets as its common denominator. As we balance the collision of such conflicting cartographic rationalities, the claims of ownership of ancestral indigenous lands may yet gain new purchase and new currency, as the contestation to access to newly valued lands that have emerged as properties–and cast as properties of the “common good”–has become increasingly intense.

The permutations of the “common good” as a logic for land seizure is not unfamiliar, as much as it has been intensified by the renegotiation of past treaties with indigenous or aboriginal communities, whose very name seems to acknowledge their remove from the global market with more than a conspiratorial wink: it recalls the expropriation of longstanding land claims across the western United States of lands under the guise of the benefit of the “public good” from the Gold Rush land leases to the “wilderness” area of National Parks, both in Canada and the United States, as public lands; one thinks not only of Yosemite but Yellowstone, as “public” lands that not only rested on expropriation, but as areas areas where contested land claims were erased or subsumed in a “public good” first and foremost in “parks” where the ostensible “sharing” of landscapes identified as wildlife were able to essentially void claims to sovereign status by being affirmed as “wilderness” areas indigenous and settlers might equitably share.

Before such a map of the recent land claims that seem to grasp smattered mineral deposits for extractive possibilities, it seems counterintuitive that the modern tools of geolocation have provided a new basis to affirm indigenous claims to the land–as if the two maps are departing from one another, red splotches revalued and excised from established treaties.

Mineral Claims in Land Claims Currently under Negotiation in Canada

But if the red dots denoting mineral claims seem located with a terrible certainty in historical and modern settled treatises, similar tools of mapping have opened indigenous perspective on land claims as a form of private property and ancestral lands that seem as if they, too, descend from the Enlightenment defense of how states secure private property rights John Locke most clearly articulated as the right taking into possession of the lands of indigenous who had failed to cultivate or farm lands, or, in modern terms, extract their resources..

It is in the context of the proliferation of mineral claims that the creation of new online maps of ancestral lands have been developed, as a counter-mapping of land claims that have long been insufficiently preserved in treaties or recognized. They seek to pose questions of the long unresolved questions of possessions, raising deep ethical questions of the limits of ownership, and artfully articulate the need to formulate forms of acknowledgment of the expropriation of indigenous rights. The collective nature of the crowd-sourced response to the erosion fixed lines of property long posed to indigenous lands, forested or unploughed, offers a provocative cartographic riposte to the toxic multiplication of claims of mineral resources that upset modern treaties, swept aside with historical treaties that seem to fall as if at the feet of the Angel of History, blown backwards by time, as if so many ruins of the past.

As we try to calculate the depth of historical obligations of nations to native peoples and indigenous land claims, the crisis of extraction may provide more than healthy starting point. While the probability of gas reserves may be more difficult to pinpoint above the Arctic Circle, as exploratory studies are less rarely authorized, and since their discovery in 2008 were newly classified as “potentially recoverable”–although as arctic ice sheets melt, that story is potentially beginning to change: but if the chromatic variation in geolocated gas reserves north of the Arctic Circle seem suitably drained of color, the apparent absence of any land claims on the map seems almost strategic. Is the absence of any indication of ancestral lands in the circumpolar stereographic projection not privileging advantageous opportunities for oil extraction, rather than recognizing longstanding land rights, or sites of residence?

Yet the naming of the land, or its recoloration by the likelihood of extracting mineral profit, irrespective of the environment, is a dramatic remapping of value in the land, in ways not seen by its inhabitants, and a triangulation of human relations to the land, and the demand for oil, as much as a reorientation of objective record of geographic space. Maps presented something like vestiges of the indigenous past of places past–“Ye say that they all have pass’d away/That noble race and brave;/That their light canoes have vanish’d,/From off the crested wave/ . . .But their name is on your water,/Ye may not wash it out,” wrote Lydia Sigourney in Indian Names; Whitman described “the strange charm of aboriginal names” that “all fit” the places, rivers, coasts and islands that they describe as adequately as onomatopoeia–“Mississippi!-the word winds with chutes–it rolls a stream three thousand miles long,” yet most names of “Indian” origin, if avoided by early settlers, to be absorbed y American tongues as they grew emptied of indigenous title. Yet the removal or blanching of indigenous geographies suggests a new relation to extracted spaces, under the ground, unanimated and sensed, remotely, for a commodity value cast as objective in its blueness, as if to convert space to a calculus of market values that exists less objectively than as a grounds for its extraction and universal needs of energy consumption, as if the probability of access to products provides the universal index of meaning indicated by shades of blue.

This relation to space, if akin to John Locke’s classic description of the value of cultivated and enclosed land that Anglo settlers are able to create in “America”, gaining value by cultivation that they would otherwise lack among indigenous, is a classic move of appropriation by means of revaluation, stated as so self-evident that it seems not an act of revaluation, but recognition of opening the “fruited soil” or “petroleum reserves” to global markets–whether markets of a global Atlantic trade for sugar, cotton, and that reveal their intrinsic value in ways not apparent to their previous occupants, by a re-designation that will elevate the land’s value of lands as the demand and need for products washes over them, to benefit “all” mankind.

A hauntingly similar logic informed how Henry David Thoreau, in 1861, described the beneficial nature of displacement as a historical logic that was almost inherent in the land. For Thoreau transitioned from how “the civilized nations–Greece, Rome, England–have been sustained by the primitive forests, which anciently rooted where they stand” reasoning that it was evident that such nations “survive as long as the soil is not exhausted,” and as nations are “compelled to make manure of the bones of its fathers,” prevailing wisdom agrees “It is said to be the task of the American ‘to work the virgin soil,’ and that ‘agriculture here already assumes proportions unknown everywhere else” in its exorbitant wealth. The American story is a dialectic process of agricultural transformation of landscape by which “the farmer displaces the Indian even because he redeems the meadow, and so makes himself stronger and in some respects more natural” as fields were transformed by plough, hoe, and spade.

This historical dialectic of displacement will bring us to the Harvest feast. FOX commentator Laura Trump, latest defender of the Trump political brand, has grown into the part by calling out the designs of those to “take away our traditions” seeking to “chip away” at America by those who “don’t want us to any shared traditions like Thanksgiving” who seek to disrupt the traditional holiday by allowing the price of the festive meal to rise by inflation. The turkey is perhaps the atavistic bird of the wild–if modern turkeys are farmed–but the Trump in-law begged viewers to grasp the extent of the failure of government in the failure to protect turkey prices from rising a few dollars as an existential threat of “turning this country inside-out;” higher prices of turkey, warned the former President’s daughter in-law, as a way of “fundamentally transforming this country, . . . to make sure you have no commonality whatsoever,” or “common ground.” Indeed, “I guess we’re lucky they’re letting us have Thanksgiving this year,” she put herself in the disadvantaged minority, alerting viewers that even if the “shared traditions” being threatened at the register “might seem a little funny and ridiculous,” pointing to how inflation might eclipse Thanksgiving festivities and leave many resigned to skip tables laden with bounty in the past given the rising costs of the bird as a sinister plot to disrupt the Harvest Feast–“‘Oh, don’t have a turkey, then people won’t come over’”–as if intending to rob the Thanksgiving table of the entitled harvest feast–even if the “wild” turkey consumed on Thanksgiving is hardly the most popular of the carb-indulgent foods most anticipated in America. Pace Laura Trump, if on most Thanksgiving tables turkey may be a dramatic center, performatively carved, we anticipate preferred side dishes on the table like mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac & cheese, cream corn, deviled eggs and biscuits. 

Pinterest/Zippia, via Delish

The turkey remains an atavistic reminder of the semi-wild nature the meal once had, as the slaughter of the massive birds offer a metonym for the cultivations of fields for holiday bounty beside squash, root vegetables, or the cranberries once harvested from New England bogs. The filling of plates is a reminder of the taking possession of the land by transporting the wild turkey to the crowded dining room celebrated as a harvest offering had become recast in Trumpland as evidence of dispossession of settler privilege.

The meal that enacted a domestication of the land had peacefully appropriated New World foods for the public good in a settler ritual, recalling the role of the harvest and planting of crops central to John Locke’s discussion of settler’s rights to property claims in the New World. If Thanksgiving is an offering up the fruits of the land, the pleasure in the planted harvest is a confirmation of sorts of the voiding of indigenous title and land claims. To discuss the scale of such disenfranchisement with John Locke’s notion of a civil contract may seem pedantry–if not heavy-handed pedantry–Locke had elevated the role of property in several stages of the Two Treatises as a beneficial introduction to the indigenous people of the Americas who had no concept.

ca. 1650 Blaue Map, “Virginiae Partis Australis et Floridiae Partis Orientalis . . . nova descriptio”
Land in Future Carolinas/University of North Carolina

In defending land speculation in land of the swampy Carolinas for his patron the Earl of Shaftesbury, Locke may well have studied the newly mapped lands in the New World, finding clear and considerable benefits of converting unused lands that had not been farmed for Atlantic commerce, growing a “public good” and allowing readers to find remove public benefit from the indigenous land claims. For Locke quite clearly saw displacement of indigenous by settlers as inherent in the definition of property; if he struggled to justify displacement of indigenous inhabitants, Locke succeeded in explaining how the introduction of property claims effectively affirmed the public good. The displacement of indigenous provided a logic of the expansion of the nation state even to infertile lands, by the late nineteenth century. and odd words to privilege to describe the theft of native lands, the defender of land speculation in the swampy Carolinas, newly mapped in the New World.

The national parks movement itself effectively functioned to subsume native claims in the prioritizing of public claims of access to lands on the edges of inhabited space, fit for the “wild” or savage lifestyle of the indigenous and edifying visitation of lands by those with need for relief from the pressures of urban space. The traces of indigenous people’s historical residency were obliterated and vacated, as the longstanding presence of former sacred spaces, sites of hunting, fishing, or community were blended into the new “wilderness” areas protected by the state, rather than regarded as sites of residence, filled by longstanding traditions of a relations of custodianship of the land. The twentieth century creation of “wildlife” spaces in national parks famously vacated spaces of sovereignty and ignored indigenous land claims, in the guise of setting them apart from development or modernity, as spaces where the long excluded or marginalized experience of the indigenous might co-exist in the largest parks, as Yellowstone, from the 1878 Bannock War, the result of a string of disrespected treaties, through the Sheepeater War in 1890 ended indigenous presence in Yellowstone; former battlegrounds with Shoshone, Crow, Blackfeet Umitilla and Bannocks was nationalized in the first “national park,” converting lands fought over in military conflicts with the Nez Perce, Bannock, and from homelands into “public lands.”

Bannock with Chief Tendoy in Ancestral Lands Converted to Yellowstone National Park/Wikimedia

The occupation of lands remembered by song, dance, and other narrative forms did not stake clear edges of territorial boundaries, but if their traditions were at times placed outside of history in ways we are only slowly coming to recognize, ways of occupying forests offered little common ground with settler demands for many years. Is it any surprise that the drilling for petroleum in Iqaluit, in the province of Nunavut, since this early October has contaminated tanks of treated drinking water supplies with diesel fuel to render it unsafe for consumption either boiled or filtered; Canada’s government felt it was safe for bathing or washing dishes, but as temperatures fell, leaving 8,000 the residents left without potable water haunted by diesel fuel smells permeating their tap water, as health advisories urged pregnant and elderly to avoid washing–and the only accessible river water of the Grinnell River starts to freeze.

The conversion of public lands in the American West paralleled the aesthetization of national parks, famously aestheticized by Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins as open wilderness, was concealed as a monumental loss of land as it was cast as wilderness, rather than lands from which settlers pushed historical inhabitants. Can these land claims be excavated and remembered, let alone recognized and preserved, by contemporary cartographic tools? These issues are not only academic: if National Park System director Jonathan Jarvis was dedicated to rebuild relations to Indigenous who used lands in the national park system, from allowing recognized nations to gather plants or visit sites within the park grounds, from the Navajo whose ancestral lands were included in the Canyon de Chelly national monument to the Umatilla who have advocated recognition of “tribal perspective” of “taking care of the land, so the land can take care of you,”the place of tribal nations within the national parks will be rejudicated in important ways during the Biden administration for the first time since Jarvis let his post in 2017, and it has remained vacant. The inheritance of these lands are complicated, however, coming one hundred and fifty years after National Parks were systematically built on ancestral lands dispossessed from Indigenous communities.

A map of northwest and north-central states with Yellowstone National Park and tribal reservations
Indigenous Tribes Associated with Yellowstone National Park and the Bounds of Current Reservations

2. It is not by chance that Locke found, in the First Treatise on Government, a foundational document for the nation, to find the clearest illustration of the value of the role of labor in extracting “products of the earth useful to the life of man” in how “several nations of the Americans . . . are rich in land and poor in all the comforts of life,” furnished by Nature “as liberally as any other people with the materials of plenty–i.e., a fruitful soil, apt to produce in abundance what might serve for food, raiment, and delight, yet, for want of improving it by labour,” without “a hundredth part of the conveniences we enjoy,” so that their king himself is “clad worse than a day laborer in England.” The relentless economic logic of extraction and global markets was present when Locke explained to readers that the “benefit mankind” received from the cultivation of whose land “natural, intrinsic value . . [is] possibly not worth a penny” not only will always be greater, Locke argued, but that if “the profit an Indian received from it were to be valued and sold here, at least I may truly say, [is worth] not one thousandth” (I: 43).

Claims for the absent of indigenous apprehension of the commercial value and of property runs deep: Emerson, no less, lamented in April, 1862, that indigenous “have not learned the white man’s work” by he late nineteenth century, this defender of liberty lamented, “the Indians have not learned the white man’s work” that is a sign of compelling and redeeming virtue, but must arise in the tribe itself; instead, “the Indian [becomes] gloomy and distressed, when urged to depart from his habits and traditions,” argued this abolitionist, “overpowered by the gaze of the white, and his eye sinks,” without a leader with “the sympathy, language, and gods of those he would inform,” able to impart the true contentment of a stable residence–not property but real estate, “the effect of a framed or stone house is immense on the tranquillity, power, and refinement of the builder,” foreign to the “nomad [who] will die with no more estate than the wolf or the horse leaves,” so foreign is a sense of property to them.

John Locke evaded the paradox in claiming lands in the Americas, by casting the act of taking possession as rooted in the master-paradigm of the institution of private property. For no “clearer demonstration” existed of how labor added value to acres than an acre “planted with tobacco or sugar, sown with wheat or barley, and an acre of the same land lying in common without any husbandry upon it.” Locke wrote proponent of the plantation system in the Carolinas in need of defense for the project of colonization, the Earl of Shaftesbury, as his patron was Secretary in the Royal Council on Trade and Plantations in the Carolinas, advocated expanding plantation system in the Carolinas, arguing in 1673-5 that peopling “New World” by settling overseas possessions in plantations would benefit Atlantic trade. Locke planned the constitutions of the Carolinas, he consulted maps in Shaftesbury’s library that show no evidence of indigenous habitation or cultivation–among them, the Blaue atlases of America’s coast from the mid seventeenth century. Not only the study of maps compel us to examine Locke in a perspective of Atlantic history, viewing the land grants that Charles II, returned to the throne, south of Virginia to Spanish Florida–between thirty one to thirty six degrees north latitude, from Atlantic to Pacific Oceans, then named in honor of Charles I, “Carolana” where man/y of the royalists living in the Barbados, rich off the cultivation of sugar plants imported to the island in the 1640s, sought to remake themselves as planters on its arable land, and indeed petitioned in the 1660s the monarch secure a thousand acres they might purchase for cultivation and the transatlantic trading of goods from unfarmed lands.

Map of Charlestown, before 1671

When the Earl of Shaftesbury opened his library to Locke as he desired to advocate expanding the plantation system to grow England’s trade through settlement and large-scale programs of cultivation. The logic of Locke’s argument on the origins of property of course supported settling, tilling, and cultivating the land by a new generation of English planters as a project of increasing the value of the land. And although this post on indigenous lands may seem to defer to the enemy, the very claims that corporations–and the governments who have allied agendas of energy extraction with the public good–not only reiterate the Doctrine of Discovery, now based on the discovery of oil and gas deposits that remote sensing has allowed, but from how Locke affirmed the greater benefit that the public good derived from cultivation by taking title of land ownership in the areas indigenous once dwelled, tilling and cultivating the lands where indigenous had quite differently mapped–but with no acknowledgement of those maps, drawn not on sharp lines of enclosure, but that he defined as Secretary of the Council of Trade and Foreign Plantations and private secretary of the Lords Proprietors, by an absence of industry, ownership, or property when he drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), some twenty years before writing the Two Treatises (1689), that granted settlers the status of “absolute Lords and proprietors” of the region as he sought to attract planters to cultivate productive plantations in the swampy Carolinas, adopting a distinctly boosterish attitude to the future patent holders, notoriously boasting that “every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”

Locke promised such a scale of dominion years before the massive expansion of moving human cargo by the Royal African Company from Africa to the New World led him to condemn enslavement outright. But in his speculation of the emergence of man from the state of nature, the Americas and Carolinas continued to provide a powerful model for the production of value in political society. Locke argued this benefit began not only from husbandry, but the introduction of property in a political compact, an introduction that would allow value to be extracted from the land. Locke turned to America as a figure of speech to designate the “state of nature” out of which civil government emerged that was most on everyone’s minds as a sight of the absence of money or fungible goods: “In the beginning, all the world was America,” he explained to readers, and moreso than it is now; for no such thing as money was anywhere known.” We smile at the conceit of the Americas occupied in readers’ geographic imaginary as a place foreign to private property, or where only political authority might introduce the security of property to inhabitants living in a State of Nature, removed in Locke’s eyes form civil society. But Locke’s affirmation that the security of property was only safe in a civil society, secure from “continual dangers” faced in the state of nature, in Two Treatises of Civil Government (II, 9:123-24), where claims to property would be always wanting protection, justified patenting land claims in California from 1851.

3. We once smiled at how Locke regarded America as an archetype of the accelerated civilizing process property might perform for Locke, as if indigenous were incidental to his argument. But his rationalization for seizing property was the clearest basis for the “doctrine of discovery” that is so often cited as fons et origo for the preservation of title to land claims of California settlers, itself able to boost racist claims. It offered a noble justification to preserve title without the consent of those indigenous who lived on the land by 1851, which cast indigenous inhabitants as so many “dependent nations” not yet able to claim rights of property on their own and not yet in a political society–affirming over two hundred existing “land grants” that has been argued to have propelled the development of California to what has recently become the largest economy in the world–whose acknowledgment of private land claims follow the outline of Spanish land grants, to be sure, but suggested the rapidity by which the state patented private claims to tile not only around San Fransisco and Los Angeles that from 1861 had rapidly devolved land ownership, but also the distinct geography of smaller agrarian plots to the north and larger land claims to the south that were revealed by private claims patented 1876-80 and after 1880.

Private Land Claims Patented in California, 1876-80, and subsequent to 1880
“California’s Land Claims,” Hornbeck, 1979

The expansion of ranchos in California demand to be told as a story of accelerated dispossession. Even if Locke had to consider if conquest “convey’d a right of Possession” including “Right and Title to their Possessions,” he effectively vacated claims of indigenous he placed in the State of Nature, and might affirm the erasure of indigenous claims on the maps he consulted in London: “there being more Land, than the inhabitants possess, and make us of, any one has liberty to make use of the waste,” he proclaimed with apparent delight at resolving an apparent contradiction in II:16 of the Treatises on Civil Government, offering what Barbara Arneil has aptly termed an “economic defense” of colonialism which later colonialists cited in arguing that indigenous land claims would cede before evidence of settlers’ cultivation of lands–the enclosure and active cultivation of lands were tied to their settlement and fully possession by the state, in a huge transfer of property that remade the topography of the state to the benefit of Anglo settlers by disadvantaging indigenous pushed inland and to higher and drier ground.

David Fuller, Private Land Claims Patented to Anglo Claimants in California, 1854-1885; based on Hornbeck 1979
from Hornbeck and Fuller, California Land Patents /

The expansion of ranchos across most of California’s most fertile lands created clipped boundaries of property lines in the patents for ranchos that demands to be viewed from the topography of the raised Sierras where most native populations were driven–a “high country” later naturalized in film–far from ancestral lands, but provided the historical backdrop for future attempts to remap indigenous presence in the state, and indeed to excavate the lost geography of indigenous inhabitation land grants erased.

David Fuller and David Hornbeck, Ranchos Patented in California, 1871-75

And although indigenous systems of government and property may be in fact beneficial alternatives, they are absent from maps of the open land of the Carolinas that seems to await cultivation in the open spaces mapped in Blaue atlases as inviting canvasses without any stable or fixed property lines.

It is difficult to call Locke a disinterested observer, after all: he was an investor in slave trade, and a proponent of the expansion of plantations in the Carolinas as he affirmed the right of property in civil society in Two Treatises on Government. Locke argued that the origin of property lay in the enclosure and taking possession of common lands for private gain as a process of natural evolution of land claims, in which “As Much Land as a Man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates, and can Use the Product of, so much is his Property“–the very property rights that were the natural law by which English planters would bring the unsettled Carolinas.

The expansion of colonization to the Carolinas offered an illustration of “submitting to the Government of a Commonwealth, under whose Jurisdiction they would be subject” as an archetypal civilizing act of the common good. Locke claimed this was not to occur by means of injuring or disadvantaging “another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions,” but the argument helped indigenous peoples were seen by Planters as not having taken advantage of the land that was “unsettled” or not cleared was not taking possessions away from those who had continued to live in a state of nature–even if doing so had no moral counsel. Only by consent to enter into a government is to consent to lose the ability “right to regulate the right of property.”

John Locke’s advocacy of the plantation system that the Earl of Shaftesbury advocated was able to accommodate enslavement, as much as Locke assumes the owner of property to practice Christian charity, but offered a logic of possession on a scale that Locke was unable to foresee–even if he saw America as a vast and unsettled expanse free from the cultivation in which English planters might offer to apply. The duly embarrassed acknowledgment and gradual recognition of how Locke’s philosophy of liberal society in fact actively accommodate enslavement in a foundational theory of liberal rights stands, retrospectively, as a sort of reckoning of the late 1980s, stemming from investigation into his involvement in the Carolinas. Despite a Fleur-de-Lis on the region, French had plainly failed to cultivate the land as property, and one might “plough, sow, and reap” to take possession of uncultivated regions that remained in the state of nature: it was more than evident by the 1660s “the French . . . have made no considerable progress in planting” to which the English would be particularly suited.

If Blaue’s map located mineral wealth in the “gold-rich Appalachian mountains” that might be mined in the New World, Locke seems to have reacted to the open fields nourished by rivers that ran up to them as fit for transformation by cultivation to the planters. One might almost imagine a similar point of view for those on the galley shown arriving in the Carolinas as it anchored offshore. The lands seemed mapped as without inhabitants and open for settlement–able to be taken possession of by planters if already mis-mapped as land of a French domain. The absence of all acknowledgement of lines of property or land ownership suggests an absence of transformation to a public good, or any recognition, in Blaue’s map, of Dominion over the land, notwithstanding the Fleur de Lis, that only acknowledges the failure of the French to have enclosed or cultivated the same lands. If Locke asserted that value of land derived from labor, he omitted that claims to land derive from force, asserting that the appropriation of land rights are justified by redistributing the goods benefit society–even if he was forced to note with some reservation that dominion is among the “first . . . of the vicious habits” that must be curbed.

Perhaps looking at Blaue’s map provided a basis for the natural process Locke described of those who will “make themselves Members of some Politick Society,” and leave that State of Nature, and in leaving that state of nature departure “give us Property [but] also bound that Property.” The proximity of the three-masted ship to the coast of the Carolinas look out at the rivers that nourish the Carolina plains, as if to suggest the imminent possibilities of bounding the rich region they observed as property, transforming it from the state of nature in which goods and resources remained common property, and but by submitting to a commonwealth to protect and preserve property.

Locke’s arguments about annexation of lands to a Dominion outside the “State of Nature” was born out of the imposition of a new society on what he saw as a “state of nature.” He did not frame this dominion and the rise of a civil state as a basis to disenfranchise native populations. But his works returned to the figure of the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, as if to find compelling rationales to do exactly that by redefining worked land as property of those who worked outside of the state of nature in which it had existed–much, Locke argued, as what “makes the Deer, [the property of] that Indian’s who hath killed it”–but by taking the “fruitful soil” of the Americas” that remained resources, “for want of improving it by labour,” untapped resources that were not defined as property in ways that benefitted the Commonwealth Locke extolled. For all title to royalty, indigneous were not imagined as able to leave the State of Nature in the map’s cartouche–even as they were omitted from the map itself.

Blaue, 1648

The bounding of property in the New World plantations For European viewers, the riverine lands of the Carolinas would beckon planters and expanded trade in trans-Atlantic markets, and created a “justness” of the appropriation of property of lands waiting to be tilled, planted, and cultivated by the expenditure of labor that indigenous inhabitants hadn’t performed, but whose new inhabitants might enter into civil society and the conventions of property ownership that of “earned property” and the accumulation of property that seems strikingly akin to the plantation system–and occurs as an accumulation from the indigenous inhabitants of the Carolinas who are reduced to a cartouche. The absence in Blaue’s map of any cartographic recognition of land claims or signs of inhabitation are conveniently omitted in ways that Locke echoes, given the “lack” laws that affirm property in the State of Nature, or, it seems, any conceptions of property at all.

from Ruth Y. Wetmore, First on the Land

Locke’s liberalism left us a problem of early modernity with which to wrestle. How we map prior land claims has been revisited in the twenty-first century as our maps call into question a collective relation to the land, propelled by the increased loss and destruction of native lands.

Increasingly, and as if all of a sudden, we are facing headlines on the news that would have been commonly accepted as likely if not obvious–“Indigenous people fished sustainably for 1,000 years before settlers arrived!”–remind us how First Nations community as the Tseleil-Waututh harvested wild salmon by returning female salmons to the river, based on archeological examination of fishbones from 400 BC-1200 AD, confirming earlier sustainable practices of river populations, practices of river management and selective fishing that might allow populations of such Pacific salmon as the sockeye and Chinook that have been threatened by overfishing. The revaluation of a relation to forest management, river rights, and indigenous remedies has suggested a broad shift that has served to extricate us from private property claims.

The Guardian, November 10, 2021

The revaluation of indigenous rights in the twenty-first century responds to a crisis in the defense of land claims of indigenous peoples, and has also marked the first involvement of indigenous voices in affirming land-claims It is odd to identify the expansion of mapping tools of geolocation that have served prospecting as a basis to affirm land claims that the pictorial map all but omits. But the extension of an invitation of indigenous populations to be stake-holders with the expansion of tools of mineral extraction in recent prospecting projects in Canada has encouraged what might be called a counter-mapping of resources, land claims, and ancestral lands.

If we can accept the technologies of extraction and engines of economics as an a logic that is destined to redefine our ecosystems, remapping the habitation of the land and its resources offers a sense of insight into the collective memory of a lived past, now receded, to be sure, as the prospect of their destruction seem impending as armies of trained professionals, armed with intelligence of petrochemical stores and tools for organizing a geography of natural disaster of untold proportions and scale, as if an impending catastrophe before which it is difficult to counter by a renewed sense of shared ethical responsibility. It is in this context of an attempt to come to terms with the violent displacement of the past that blurred boundaries have become important tools of the active decolonization of how we see space and inhabit it.

For the adoption in many crowd-sourced reparative atlases of indigenous land claims of blurred boundaries, rather than a landscape of land grants and ranchos, present a different landscape able to trigger new land claims or prompt decolonization for staking acknowledgement of the continued presence of lost lands: the overlapping boundary lines in online and static mapping tools provide a knowledge-base for a counter-mapping of digital sovereignty in an era where digital technologies ares used in extraction. Indeed, the possibility digital sovereignty presented in online maps offer may be necessary tools to combat claims of extraction that are altering the landscapes of many indigenous people, and the animals in the rivers and watersheds that they have long stewarded and used, as active sites whose preservation demands to be regarded as something we have a responsibility to preserve: Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

The fraught ethical status of recuperating the presence of old landholders or inhabitants in lands that seem unoccupied open spaces have historically denied indigenous cartographies with which early cartographers were so often in dialogue–and indeed benefitted. Increased legal agreements that recognize the “personhood” of rivers that have been advocated by indigenous people from the Maori in New Zealand, who have reached accords with the Aotearoa government to recognize the Whanganui River and its rights, or the Innu in Quebec, whose accord with Canada’s government gives the recognition of the personhood of the Magpie River and its right to flow free from industrial effluents and human waste, much as the sex selection in rivers of British Columbia long kept them stocked with salmon that allowed their ecosystem to survive. What sort of cartographic tools are required for staking legal claims by indigenous populations that have long been denied are not clear. But cartographic practices might offer tools for staking land claims not only in inhabited regions, but to reconsider our relations to land, either by conferring legal status to indigenous who settle river banks they have been long denied, or granting legal standing to press suit on their behalf, creating a document able to respond to how GIS offered cartographic tools exposed native territories to a new logic of extraction and plunder.

4. Since Walt Whitman declared his origins “starting from Paumanok“–“sea beauty! stretched and baskin! . . . isle of sweet brooks of drinking-water”–to Malcolm Margolin’s exploration of California’s indigenous landscape, there has been pushback on Locke’s claims by those who want to peel back the layers of property claims in maps. For Whitman, native place-names help orient us to a place we have renamed as we have settled, and given new names that created a new geography of land ownership. We find clear sense of remediation and reparative hopes in the acknowledgement of the complexity of place in the recent work of mapping the hundred indigenous Tongva villages that filled the current Los Angeles Basin, home of the Tongva People, revealed in early maps of Tovaangar, a sequence of villages once housing at least 5,000, connected by commercial trading routes, now obscured or converted into freeways, even if a early maps cannot grant the villages legal standing–or act as a land acknowledgement for a tribe not recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Tongva Villages and Rivers in the Los Angeles Baskin

While the memory of habitation has long been deeply emotional accessing of the ancestral lands that preserve a common ties to the vanished sacred landscapes that genocide so cruelly erased, the prestige of GPS in accessing minerals and defining place has led to a an increased precision of place that helps apprehend the scale of genocide, and indeed stake out a “war of memory” about older but not always lost homelands. While such a memory of place was long emotional, the state of play revealed in the Los Angeles Basin by the pictorial Kirkman-Harriman pictorial map of Los Angles County. The pictorial map creates an image recording the intense habitation of the region but simultaneously defines it as a reality that was in the process of being actively relegated to past, and marginalized in the current landscape in which indigenous water rights were being denied. Although compiled and made in 1937, it offers a compellingly terrifying map of the state of play in the extermination of the residents of Yangna, ancestral home of the Tongva people, circa 1850, that demands greater attention, detailing the wars and engagements that drove Tongva from the villages that once dotted the Basin and its rivers, from the Santa Monica shore to what is now the San Fernando Valley, across the current Beverly Hills and far past the Santa Ana River, a dense network of indigenous villages linked and tied by trading routes.

These sites have long been erased, and repaved after being systematically displaced and obliterated from c. 1850, the memories of displacement from a web of rivers hardly visible in contemporary Los Angeles reactivates a deep landscape, beneath the geography of missions from the mid-eighteenth century, long since replaced by a new map from Santa Monica Bay to Riverside, CA, and invites question of the ongoing contestations of land, the placement of indigenous presence in California–site of the largest number of indigenous descent of any state–and what it would mean to “re-indigenous” or recognize the scale of loss on California land, or make the past present in the current densely populated landscapes of California. Already, by the 1937, the city of Los Angeles had begun to trade the land where Paiutes had received in exchange for their land with a growing city that sought to obtain water rights of the lands they owned in the Central Valley, reducing the claims Owens Valley Paiutes had on their ancestral homelands, in exchange for resettlement to the planned Bishop, Big Pine and Lone Pine reservations, to allow the city to draw an increased water, where the city promised it would provide needed water that was never to arrive, as Los Angeles Department of Water and Power sent the water that lay on ancestral lands south in an aqueduct to feed the burgeoning needs of an urban population, draining Owens Lake.

The battles detailed in this historical map by crossed swords–LaBrea, August 1770 near the current Hollywood, or by gold mines as late as 1856–create a canvas of the range of battlefields and skirmishes (“Indian fights”) that by about 1860 had erased the villages of which little trace is left in the current freeway systems, and the lost geography that is, as it were, buried beneath pavement and concrete. But the sequence of battles of lost land claims and settlements near missions, valleys and rivers only echoed the ongoing erasure of the indigenous landscape as water was redirected to a new urban infrastructure.

Despite the value of these seemingly careful stories of Angeleno History, the rise of cartographic tools of open source origin has encouraged a reprocessing of this old territory in compelling creative ways. The mapping in Open Street Map or by open source tools of the past landscape of the despoiled urban present is a reminder of our fraught relation to place, and indeed the habitation of past landscapes, in a sort of Open Historical Map–a project currently underway–that might have important consequences for changing our relations to ecosystems and for acknowledging the rights of inhabitants to the land whose voices have been most marginalized–the indigenous–but are perhaps now most important to be heard.

Early California Cultural Atlas

Recent efforts to call attention to a loss of place has been more common in public art projects seeking to expose the losses inherent in renaming, by remediating a relation to place in public consciousness, as much as by staking land claims. A radical artistic collaborative has placed billboards situated to call attention within Los Angeles’ automotive space on the arteries of the 10 and 5 to acknowledge the status of Tongvaland as an identity that demands to be known by Angelenos, the remapping of the state–and indeed of the globe–provides the possibility of articulating the sort of legal standing to mount redress or claim consciousness of impending ecological challenges or impending catastrophes, if by remapping our past, to better wrestle with questions of the ownership and collective responsibility to the land.

TONGVALAND — Cara Romero Photography
“Tongvaland” (above) by Weshoyot Alvitre/NDN Collective/August, 2021

We might well see the gaudily reflective letters as inverting the lost presence of indigenous erased in early maps, the gaudily upright capitol letters of reflective metal placed in canyons east of Beverly Hills quite theatrically reflect the absent acknowledgement of land claims in maps of indigenous presence. The most famous California maps of the presence of indigenous, perhaps, the extremely detailed map of indigenous language groups of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, for his Handbook of California (1925). Kroeber personally publicly acknowledged and supported indigenous land rights by telling theIndian Claims Commission that the entire state, and not only land since identified for bands and tribes, belonged to Native Californians.

5. Although Kroeber’s linguistic map is often inaccurate, his hope to document “Native Tribes, Groups, Dialects and Families of California in 1770,” it was a powerful tool in 1955, when its boundaries were redrawn, to redress a loss of land claims. The map was conceptual, but any map is a territory: and this one, sadly, seemed to relegate the indigenous inhabitants of California to a removed past. Kroeber’s map did real work in showing that tribal language groups that had been insistently relegated to California’s past still existed, and might even be recorded on a map, as they were registered for posterity in some 3,000 wax cylinders. The map is the territory, however, and Kroeber’s often inaccurate divisions of language groups is seen as implicitly–and tragically–conceding the absence of claims of indigenous inhabitants that California had declared by . But the tabulation–if often incorrect–became iconic as a representation of past tribal families at a time in the very time when an indigenous landscape was irrevocably pushed into the past–afgter 1928, it could only be seen as a ghost-landscape of language groups that had existed as claims to land ownership had been effectively denied: the academic imprimatur with which Kroeber mapped “language families” in 1922 also made it seem an anthropological curiosity as a project of historical conservation which few really wanted to hear.

The “new boundaries” Kroeber appeared to demarcate native peoples left Paiute, Shoshone, Yuma, Mohave and Chemehuevi confined to a reduced rump, far from California’s settled land. But if to a modern eye they elide “language groups” and an all too real record of confinement to arid lands, Kroeber’s mission to define existing languages in use might, for all its faults and inaccuracies, be a resistance of its own to the consignment of indigenous presence in California to a remote past. He was mapping, or trying to map, linguistic presence, and if the concept of one man mapping the entire state before computer databases with any accuracy seems foolhardy, the window to detect living (lost) languages was contracting, and became an obsession for Kroeber, armed with microphones to register the riches of languages of California that already in the mid-1920s had been consigned to the past.

Alfred Kroeber, Native Tribes, Groups, Dialects, and Families of California in 1770″ (1922)

–as the different careful recording of native villages and sites of Miwok and Maidu in the north, where he long lived and worked–a rather brutal geography suggesting a smattering of residual settlements on rivers, as the Feather, removed from the larger cities of Sacramento and San Francisco; if it alleges to describe “territories,” the towns inland from the Sacramento river suggests a continuation of active presence, pushed far inland from northern California’s coastal lands into more mountainous terrain.

To be sure, Kroeber’s map could also be read as a distinctive counter map of sorts, affirming Indigenous presence, even if it did so in historical terms: if it pushed back against the notion of Manifest Destiny, it was a historical record that contrasted to the national map of “Indian reservations” issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, back in 1888, that marginalized native presence in California. This “base map” of current reservations where indigenous were confined dates before Kroeber studied with Franz Boas at Columbia University; when he was a ten year old in Hoboken, New Jersey, actual territorial confines had all but vacated indigenous land claims in the entire state of California, far from rivers or arable lands.

Even as Kroeber made his linguistic map, the United States Congress was eager to prevent “Indians of California” from truing to sue for the loss of land in unratified treaties to which individual tribes or groups had been compelled to sign during the Gold Rush, in 1851-2, and to prevent any suit or action by limiting legal standing in 1928, when “California Indians” were a historical people, needing to demonstrate descent from “Indians who were residing in the State of California on June 1, 1852, and [were]now living in said state,” as a collective. The tenuous legal existence of such a group reflected a lack ny existing map of land claims, or evidence of an indigenous landscape. These “California Indians” were all absent from the 1888 map, in which reservations, were distanced from urban areas and effectively displaced to removed rivers–many of which were, sadly, later dammed.

6. It only makes sense, ethically, to carry this narrative through the current map of isolated areas of recognition and land acknowledgements in the current state, against the multiple tribal communities of Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Pacific Region against “Tribal Lands” in the interstate area of “Region Nine.”

7. The current practices of remapping indigenous land claims by the early twenty-first century have shifted as satellite mapping and remote sensing of underground oil deposits gave renewed currency and to Lockeian claims for the public good–and have done so with some urgency, across North America. Locke had argued property reflected the wealth able to be extracted for global markets from the fields of plantations–as sugar had become a global commodity in the Barbados for planters who lived there, to such an extent by the 1660s that they pressed King Charles II to arrange that they might purchase land in the Carolinas with their newfound wealth–the increased projection of millions of dollars in underground oil (as well as gas) reserves across the Canadian provides a turbo-charged rationalization for the public good trumping indigenous claims. The currently estimated 71 billion barrels of oil in Canadian territories–$166.3 billion in Alberta’s oil sands and 4.7 billion offshore–define a landscape of extraction whose increasing value of extraction was elided with “labor” benefits.

Mineral production, by province and territory, 2017 and 2018
Oil Reserves Projected and in Canadian Provinces/

Minerals are present in every territory of Canada, north of the border, but have been increasingly pinpointed with precision as their value has grown as a national good. Valued “heavy metals” or minerals, especially scarce metals as cadmium, uranium, titanium, and platinum used in rechargeable batteries, plating, as well “rare earths” like lithium and graphite, lie in native lands.

Canada seems to promote the map of minerals’ location to promote the increasing importance of indigenous economic cooperation; extractive industries indeed employ 16,500 indigenous in the labor sector, who constitute a disproportionate 12.5% of the upstream economy’s labor force in Canada, and led to over five hundred and twenty five legal agreements or concessions signed by extractive industries and indigenous communities and governments, many still active, since 1974, 356 about exploration and mining. Of the 430 of these agreements of exploration or mining active in 2019, over half lie underground in Upper Canada in Ontario–141– or British Columbia–91–by 2019, and agreements of “exploration” or “development” or other accords multiplied so quickly to double 2006-19. These accords are based on mapping sites of extraction, and the speculation on oil-rich territories or beds of minerals on specific lots. The geolocation of such deposits, now able to be known by the government with relative precision from remote sensing, suggests a knowledge of underground energy reserves lying in native lands that has made them far more vulnerable to prospecting, and more attractive to contractual leasing by extractive industries, leaving native communities vulnerable without access to comparably pinpointed geographical knowledge of oil- and mineral-rich sites.

Active Indigenous Mining Agreements and Accords for Mineral ‘Exploration’ or Development
Red Circle–Impact and Benefits Agreements
Tan–Socio-Economic Agreements
Blue–Exploration Agreements

It is, perhaps, not a surprise that the crowd-sourced interactive website Native Land Digital that was the brainchild of Victor Temprano, in the midst of the heady environment, CEO of Mapster who worked on a pipeline-related project, circa 2016. The sourcing of maps for indigenous land claims was pushed by his own anti-pipeline activity that involved remapping the place of planned lines of transport of crude oil from the boreal forest south to New Orleans on the KXL project and to Northwest ports Victoria threatened native lands and the ecological environments exposed to threats by drilling and clearcutting and risks of leaks. The current live charting at a live API offers total coverage of the globe, as may be increasingly important not only at a time of increasing unrestrained mineral extraction to produce energy but the retreat of ice in global melting that will alter animal migration routes, thawing permafrost, and sudden drainages of inland lakes that might call attention to new practices of land preservation.

The rich API provides a reorientation to the global map promising a powerful new form of orientation. Temprano, an agile mapmaker, political activist and marketer, framed the question of a more permanent digital repository of a global database of indigenous geography, that put the question of indigenous map front and center on the internet globally. The product, that led to an ambitious open source non-profit, sidestepped the different conceptions of space, time, and distance among indigenous communities, or the blurriness of fluid bounds, and opted the benefits outweighed the costs of an imagined the collection of maps of ancestral lands in term by the GIS tools of boundaries, layers, and vector files, as a rich counter-map to settler claims, able to collate lands, language and treaty boundaries on a global scale.

The dynamically interactive open-source interactive project, known for its muted pastel colors, rather than the harsh five-color cartography that reify sovereign lines that posits divide as tacit primary categories of knowledge, is subtly compelling in its alternative non-linear format, that invests knowledge in sensitivity to the contributions of each of its viewers: dynamic, and administered by a non-profit with native voices on its board. It is, inventively, able to maintain the dual display of a site where one could easily navigate between native and Canadian place-names and explore “indigenous territory,” as if it might be mapped by mapping space onto time in the broadly used cartographic conventions that have developed and flourished in online mapping ecosystems–and offered the benefit of creating layers able to be toggled among to layers of treaties by which land was legally ceded, overlapping language groups, and a decolonized space that was particularly sensitive in Canada, where the ability to engage outside colonial boundaries had been placed on the front burner by extractive industries. Temprano’s map, sensitive to the flexibility to boundaries, seems a relation to the lines among states in the United States, which have seemed political and ideological divides in electoral maps, but the problem of mapping the Canadian treaties and cessions limiting “Algonquin” (Omàmìwininì) lands that allowed the placement of the capitol of Canada to be placed at their center.

3 facts about the 4-color theorem | Caleb Stanford Blog

8. While quite clearly being explicit about its ability to “represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations,” and directing all interested in determining exact boundaries to consult the nations it maps, is there not a bit of an abdication of responsibility in putting such an admittedly glorious bouquet of pastels online as if they suggest a vision of comity, as much as there is something deeply valuable in having such an easily compiled online resource for mapping North America, and a clear reluctance to not hesitate to indicate the ways boundaries often overlap.

The blurred borders on this image of North America, for example, suggests a potent tool for decolonizing North America, and indeed to establish a knowledge-base in its toponymy for educating and building community about a new sense of land and land claims in an app, empowering individuals by the very accessibility of online tools on screens and mobiles we are all, in an age of globalization, relying upon.

The map is not intended to help adjudicate official boundaries with currency in a court of law, and disclaims up front representing “legal boundaries of any Indigenous nation,” deferring authorship and responsibility of such boundaries to the nation, rather than claiming to synthesize a statement of objective truth. Nor does it claim any status of perfection, but rather an extended work in progress to think better through maps–which makes it so attractive as an alternative text, accepting any “fixes” from local tribes or peoples who have input their approximate boundaries for a public record after they have been omitted from most maps.

Yet the palimpsest of seasonally overlapping claims are especially clear in California, where I live, and provide a measure of responding to the rather tortured history of land theft and competing claims on the official map. The complexly overlapping claims, settlements and jurisdictions of what Bureau of Indian affairs continues to classify among federally recognized Tribes as an independent “Pacific Region” and remains the home of more people of Native American/Alaskan Native Heritage than any other state, ruled by special rules as a jurisdiction, often of federal origin. The land claims are far more blurred and historically complex–

Native Land

–if the federally recognized areas to which actual indigenous residency has been shrunk “Indian coutnry” to a rump presence that disperse one hundred and nine federally recognized “tribes” across nearly a hundred separate Rancherias, allotments and reservations in a geographic marginalization that the Native Land map constructively emends.

9. The crowd-sourced map of course offers nations’ members of ways of staking claims to the land that they still continue to inhabit–if not rarely on current mobile or static maps. An overlap between nations and land claims are especially prominent, for several reasons, one has to notice, in the many smaller tribes and “tribe-lets” of the west coast, often lacking federal recognition, especially along the California coast, in specific, currently valuable coastal property. The problem of the cartographic marginalization of many tribes lacking recognition as tribes leave them without claims to territory in ancestral lands. Other tribes simply neither have native speakers or land set aside, placing them in a cartographic limbo of lack of land recognition without legal precedent.

From the arrival of miners in California from the Gold Rush in the 1840s, land encroachments had forced indigenous inhabitants from most of their subsistence lands in California pushing them to the mountains; they entered into many unratified treaties with native inhabitants, ceding water rights and allocating limited fishing rights to indigenous inhabitants of the land; as California settlers seized native lands, Congress acted to confine tribal presence to”reservations” July 31, 1851, and March 3, 1855 on plots of no more than 10,000 acres, a number reduced to five by 1857, Fresno Farm, Klamath, Nome Lackie, Mendocino, and Tehon, and by 1864 relocated those resettled in Fresno Farm and Tejon valley to the Tule River reservation and sent those relocated to Nome Lackie and Mendocino to Round valley. Others from northern California and southern Oregon were sent to Hoopa valley, as all relation to former lands was erased by the growth of private property. The result was redrew the lands ceded to the government as “public lands,” radically reducing the lands supposedly ceded in 1851-52.

Lands Ceded to “Indian Reservations” in California, 1850-51

The marginalization of land ownership claims has a long history, but occurred as such claims were drastically rewritten during the Gold Rush, the first land grab for extracting minerals in western states. While estimates of a reduction of indigenous populations due to infectious diseases alone by a third from pre-settlement times in California, the pastels map of Native Land eases one into the erasure of land-claims and ownership in the region from the systematic land theft sanctioned in California, where indigenous were killed between 1849 to 1870 with intensity of localized massacres by armed squads of vigilantes and groups of armed gold prospectors who expanded claims of private property in the region.

As much as being diffuse cases of land claims, the state issued bonds for militias to size tribal lands, as local governments placed bounties on Califronia indigenous, adopting a language of dehumanization and “extermination” and the recapture of lands, sanctioning the enslavement of “Indians” across the state, in the midst of the Civil War as an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians legalized slavery across the region as California was recognized as a state, creating at least 20,000 slaves at a stroke of the pen before the Civil War, by affirming “in no case shall a white man be convicted on any offense upon the testimony of an Indian” denied indigenous populations standing in any court of law.

Involuntary servitude or enslavement of “Indian” populations became state policy west of the Sierra Nevada, fostering the internalization and projection by prospectors of race-based categories of classification that helped defend and define whiteness on the western frontier state. This was soon evident in the stark reduction of the lands aAs prospectors entered the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills long inhabited by the Miwok and Yokut, leading to state-sanctioned militia to protect miners’ claims, in “battles” as the Mariposa Indian War and El Dorado county campaign that was openly fought over staking recognizing the legitimacy of land seizures as claims. In the course of the Mariposa War, settlers signed a “treaty” with six tribes on March 19, 1851, ceding the Gold Country. as land grant universities collected some 10.7 million acres taken from nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities through over 160 cessions brokered under threats of armed violence, the University of California amassed its endowment from some 2,395 parcels of over 150,000 acres of land, by 34 cessions and treaties, as well as outright seizures, from across the state before World War I.

The Gold Rush has been situated in both an environmental transformation of the state, and an institution of new lands of rationalization of race-based extermination as Benjamin Madley details in An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873. California’s first Governor, Peter H. Burnett, predicted in January, 1851, “a war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct.” as a “war of extermination” was demanded in local press “until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed,” as a Eureka paper in 1853 adopted a language of racial extermination while casting any proponents of treaties of land cessation as traitors to an Anglo cause. An early War of Terror might be mapped from the Sacramento River Massacre in Shasta Valley in 1846 to the Clear Lake Bloody Island Massacre in 1850 by a U.S. Army detachment in Lake County, or local militia in Mariposa County in the Mariposa War of 1851, as the meeting houses of Wintu were destroyed by miners in Shasta County, as Anglos collectively terrorized native populations conveniently classified as “ceded” as if in a rush to erase all memory of Native land claims from the map.

Difficulties to process this flat-out denial of land claims across the state contains one of the more relevant “under-maps” for blurring the boundaries of land claims as re-rendered in Native Land. But the limits of land ceded for reservations was quickly reduced.

Land “Ceded” in California, in Treaties from 1850-51

The maps striking overlap of blurred boundaries in these crowd-sourced maps immediately caught my eye as a place they might more peacefully rest,–and not only because it was so nicely aestheticized in ways that left me thinking this was a map I could enjoy reading more. The chromatic overlap of clusters of colors seemed so artful to urge one to zoom in, reveling in how regions overlap to pose parallel and quite alternative claims in the same frame of reference, rejecting the notion of a clear border as the nation seems to be haunted by one: the overlapping claims of migrating boundaries indicated the possible overlap of seasonal migration or parallel land claims. I questioned what relation this had to crowd-sourcing, but detected an intentionally approximate and slightly obscure removal of blurred boundaries from the coordinate system of colonizers, even as its crowd-soured nature affirmed the continuity of Native presence across the state, in contrast to mapping a landscape of genocide.

While some eighteen treaties were negotiated by the United States government before the Civil War with Indian “nations” to secure title to public land and create lands reserved for Indian nations, the alternative between “domestication” and “extermination” framed public debate. But the “treaties” were rarely signed with anything like clear knowledge of bounding ‘protected reservations’ or the denial of access to newly titled “public lands” from which tribes were displaced. The Decolonial Atlas continue to challenge viewers to synthesize the extent of dispossession over a longue durée that can barely be processed or grasped by snapshots of the grinding process of the wheels of disenfranchisment–

–we have struggle to tally the erasure of claims to land that were lost in anything like an ordered way as an “impact of California history on Native Lands,” a “replacement map” that can only suggest the difficulty of totaling the extent of rampant genocide across the state that in many ways distinguished and defined California state politics and property law in the nineteenth century, and may demand attention as a laboratory for the future campaigns of extermination by which the twentieth century was defined.

Even if the map is by no means complete–many indigenous were exterminated without treaties brokered to be broken, and the extent of land theft is difficult to map on clear lines, if the cumulative effects and scale of such widespread dispossession of lands is difficult to chart across the state in meaningful ways.

Indigenous Lands Ceded or Seized for Land Grant Universities in California

The eliminating of boundary lines Native Land features prominently are key to replacing our current maps, and our historical awareness of loss of sovereignty across the state. The have been left quite intentionally approximate but evolving–acknowledging how many displaced communities may be present in regions of other ancestral homes. Blurring boundaries, the Native Land maps say, will not seek to re-establish or perpetuate grounds of sovereignty analogous to other maps of sovereign states, but to better tell stories about the territory and our relation to it, and to question if any definite boundaries should exist in our maps. While geolocation is a bit anathema to many indigenous maps, lest they disclose information that might invite in others to sacred or historical lands, and in so doing undermine the struggle to preserve local knowledge of forested lands still used, these maps are sensitive to not wanting to encourage searches for artifacts, and ruins or artifacts, already often despoiled.

10. The cultural patrimony of the landscape and forests also needs defending, and the re-mapping of California and the West suggests a re-placing of prominence of native presence in the landscape that make it a far more living one than the current California, despoiled by pollution, paving, and increasingly fires. As the increasing urbanization of California in the twentieth century pushed the search for drinking water for growing cities into the interior and Sierra Nevada, once allocated native lands were pushed to the center of water disputes across the state, as Damon Aikens and William Bauer have noted, among others, and the demand for urban and industrial water alike came at the direct expense of what were once native settlements and lands: tribal communities as the Sierra Miwok living in Hetch Hetchy and the Owens Lake were flooded to allocate a supply of drinking water for populations of San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively, as well as the agricultural expansion of the Central Valley, again the big losers in the calculus for diverting and reapportioning rainfall across the state by redirecting surface water flow; Owens Lake was outright drained as if it were a reserve for public use, and the flooding of the Capitan Grande supplied San Diego hydroelectric power as the city grew.

This is almost a secret chapter of the state’s environmental history. Both the Ahwahnechee and Tuolomne Miwok had shared the region of Hetch Hetchy Valley that John Muir praised as an “acorn orchard” of natural beauty, if it had long been managed by both Miwok bands through controlled burns to boost the output of seeds of black oaks across the valley. The Paiutes who had built irrigation system across much of the Owens Valley to grow tubers and seed grasses as a basis of settlement only became arid as ranchers appropriated its water. But the submerging of the “orchard” in Hetch Hetchy and the arid void of Owens Lake were cascading effects of how demand for urban electricity and water cast long shadows across the state’s interior that boosted collective amnesia of native land claims and the repossession of both valleys and erasure of long developed ecosystems beneficial to both lands.

The massive give-away of public lands was a windfall for creating reservoirs and dams, a bonanza that stimulated “public” building projects across the state of California before and after the New Deal to feed growing cities, in a reshuffling of environmental resources and assets that set the basis for its boom in projects of earth-moving in which indigenous populations were decidedly short-changed. The environmental transformation of much of California began from the expropriation of indigenous lands, in a circularity of laying claim to native land that boosted private property. “A map of reservoirs in California follows the contours of Indigenous land,” Damon B. Akins and William J. Bauer observe in their award-wining history of Native California, We Are the Land. The rather systematic flooding of Indian Country hand in glove with the Bureau of Indian Affairs may not even be needed to be mapped: despite opposition of indigenous communities to dam-building projects from the San Diego to Sacramento to Tuolumne Rivers, the first achieved through the negotiations between the city of San Diego and Bureau of Indian Affairs; the flooding of native lands and reservations in California for the “greater good” led to the construction of concrete dams 1923-61 across California, many now aging and rated in poor to fair condition, for urban growth: the damming of the Feather, Colorado, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Trinity, and Tuolumne Rivers flooded ancestral lands of the Chemehuevi, Hupa, Maidu, Miwok, Paiute, Wintun, Yokuts and Yoruks. Rivers across the state were tapped for energy at indigenous cost, displacing each from ancestral lands rarely fully acknowledged: Bauer and Akins ask us to see the “hydrological map of the state is a map of Indian dispossession,” and one might push on their insistence that the map of surface water diversion is a “map outlining theft and erasure of Indian land” by casting it as a ghost map of lost or evacuated land claims that Native Lands tries to resurrect.

Ghosts in the machine of the long history of state building? It’s incumbent to preserve these parallel geographies of place, parallel geographies at the same time, and the theft or appropriation of lands for dam building reflect a reclassification of public lands that were in fact inhabited, as much as wilderness. We might note the presence of these dams against the claims rendered of land in apps such as Native Land. We are, however, perhaps only become aware of them again as the dams are themselves age–as we debate an infrastructure bill, in San Diego County, Hodges, El Capitan, and Lower Otay are in “poor” condition and dams in Morena, Barrett and Lake Murray are in “fair” condition; after the 2015 disastrous collapse of the Oroville dam spillway, an audit determined more than half to be of “high or extremely high hazard;” three major dams in Southern California–on the Whittier, Prado and Mojave Rivers–could collapse in the flooding produced by the atmospheric rivers due to the surplus water created by arctic melting, endangering millions downstream and deflating property values.

California Dams/National Inventory of Dams

Are we able to look at the map in greater detail, our attention challenged as we limp through an era of natural disasters? The divergence in how we map the state suggests an alternative history that eerily suggest the different realities in which many residents of the United States have come to dwell even before the Trump Era; it was the Trump era when maps became both far less meaningful as accurate tools, but far more powerful as persuasive forms of mobilizing opinion, this blog has argued and tried to show in recent years.

But rather than only asserting alternate realties, these maps are affirming a continuity across time that is deeply reassuring or restorative. For the presence of parallel worlds across the state, suggested in this map of the expanded Bay Area region I live, a region that has recouped unity due to highway systems that it once had in networks of trade, tracks the actually radically reduced landscape of habitation against the regions of past settlement.

I didn’t grow up bicoastal, but if I might have pretended to be Lenape on the shores of the Hudson in earlier years, the Native Land website offered a broader image of the lost land claims that echoed into the present topography of Long Island and along the Hudson River, a division of lands of Montauken and Merrick and Manhansets, Massapequas, and Hamonassets suggested a deeply reparative relation to reading the land, and reminding one of the wealth of the eastern lands from which indigenous claims were also purged as peoples were forcibly relocated and the rich waters of the Long Island sound ceased to be areas of indigenous settlement–or almost ceased–unlike the territorial divisions imagined among “thirteen tribes” that divided the Island and its waters in the popular imagination.

Area of Long Island, NY in Native Land.CA, September 22, 2021
David Bunn Martine (1992)

Is there any surprise Walt Whitman of Paumanok celebrated the sound of native place-names as of spiritual resonance, almost romantically, as more evocative as indigenous lands systematically marginalized from the map in California? Whitman in his geographic poetics insistently returned to land names of indigenous origins as a toponymy fare more rich with meaning of place than the settler names of jurisdictions. Yet indigenous were omitted and excluded from the nation and national census, and considered “foreign” to the nation-state, in 1850, the poet self-described as from the fish-shaped island of Paumanok celebrated his national song of transcendence as “starting from Paumonok,” “Isle of the salty shore and breeze and brine.” It is indeed as the site from which his poem starts, and he boasted to join the nation as a whole, from miners in California to the Dakota woods to the southern savannas or Manahatta, “my city,” and its “populous pavements.” As populous as the pavements in which he discussed his companions as “surging Manhattan’s crowds,” the island was far from uncrowded with inhabitants as readers might imagine.

Whitman’s own abundant toponymy in his national poetic geography barely broaches the range of places and settlements in the crowd-sourced regions, even of those noted in the very valuable map of Long Island in Native Land, charting the shared boundaries in which fourteen groups of Indigenous have lived and continue to live among the densely populated island, where several soverign nations also exist. The blurred boundaries of inhabitant on the island from Canarsies to the Shinnecock, include not only th Manhansets, Massapequas, Nissequoques, Rockaways, but the Matinecock, Montaukett, Setlacott and Unkechaug still sovereign nations on the Island, as, on or near the broader waters of what we call the Hudnson and Long Island Sound, the Shinnecock, Manhattans (Lenape), Linni Lenapes, Delawares, Pequots, Quinnipiacs, and other groups. Faced by a lack of information or organizational guides of existing records, local Long Island archivists have fulsomely praised the revisionary interactive maps for valuably providing “one of the very few sources that accurately depict fluid border lines” in the Island led recommendations from the Director of Special Collections and University Archivist of Stony Brook University to submit requests for land acknowledgements to the Library of Congress, as part of a reparations process, in 2021, emphasizing the value of boundaries of the interactive map as an alternative guideline to organize works difficult to organize or locate in existing university collections.

Area of Long Island, NY on Native

Such place- and regional-names are often officially unrecognized, or lost due to forced migrations and consolidations, and the requests for land acknowledgements and finding aides are precisely what the founder and administrations of the crowed-sourced if adjudicated website desire to see.

11. A lack of definitive boundaries serve to deepen our understandings of place on the map, in the words of Christine Luckasavitch-McRae, “to engage critically with colonial boundaries” and influence of settler colonialism on a global scale as we come to terms collectively to complexify of a relation to territoriality that includes an interactive component of indigenous voices too often marginalized. The question of staking land acknowledgements may be only a first step of sorts to reckon with the landscapes of colonization that are preserved and perpetuated in maps; by enabling students and all to use GIS in new ways to claim the idea of digital sovereignty by the format and style of online maps, and indeed to create an educational moment of reflection, in which the process of map-reading offers a base to rebuild community relations: they suggest the real interest of providing a gazetteer of Native Land able to be eventually recognized, one hopes, by states and sovereign entities as place-names of authority.

The illusion of a distinct set of native or indigenous cartographic competencies is an odd cartographic iconography to display ancestral lands. The claims of using open-source tools to illustrate places that were historically occupied are not indigenous map per se, using different modern cartographic vernacular that open source allows, but renders a sense that seems to convey an inescapable of the sense of occupying and moving through space–a sort of virtual recognition of spatial mobility–absent from traditional cartographic tools and forms. Or does the iconography erase a senes of indigenous contribution to shaping cartographic records of place and its inhabitation?

However, the map, in which one can drill down, conveys a sense amenable to the performative relation to place, and indeed the progreession through space, that is organized and oriented around fixed toponyms, but rooted in inahbitng and moving through spaces, rather than fixed bounds.

Despite the value of open access and familiar processing of sites of belonging, the value of place-names on the map is to a large sent erasing the different cartographic competencies that indigenous had to the land, and the different ways that time mapped on to space for them. This map is, we are reminded, not far at all from the iconography of conquest. The definition of “treaties” or concessions on the same map enriches its content if crowds its narrative, a topography of “secession” or “ceding” lands by strong-arming or gunpoint which seems to be on questionable grounds as a tallying of precedent–if the cessions may be a bit of static on the appreciation of ancestral lands currently inhabited, they illuminate the range of tribelets or communities often given a seriously short shrift in cessions ceding land on the west coast.

12. The definition of Traditional Territories in Canada has deep traditions, as ancestral lands claimed by first nations. In British Columbia, whose capitol is Vancouver, 95% of the province is unceded First Nations territory–“unceded” to remind us that none of the traditional territory was ever legally signed away to the Crown or Canadian government. The blurred boundaries of the map created in Open Text BC includes use a pixelated boundary to clever effect to suggest that the boundaries were never clearly drawn in a map that maps onto space and time in ways that we want to think of as a straight edge.

The blurred boundaries of British Columbia, from an indigenous perspective, map not onto a territorial mindset, but a riverine network, and a relation to the ocean on which the riverine network opens. Rather than existing in relation to the place-names of Canadians, the ancestral people, family lineage, and past names of the land are given new vitality and presence in this educational textbook, as a way of learning a different relation to the land, a project at heart of decolonization but also of re-appropriation and a work of not only making strange, but reorientation, to a network of roads and rivers that were not primarily understood in terms of transit among cities like Vancouver or Prince George or across property or boundary lines. This re-education bridges multiple cultures, and allows the diversity of perspectives on place to be held within the map’s edges, rather than ask edges to be internalized by the viewer.

Map showing First Nations Territories in B.C.
First Nation Status across British Columbia, 95% of which is Unceeeded Territory

The value of these blurred boundaries are corrective here, but may suggest a blurred sense of occupying space or of preserving a sense of the crucial role of movement through space: while we are tempted to see the tribal presence as localized, or rooted in place, the removed from the senses of mobility, enabled by road-building and a paved environment of transit, the motion of tribal presences across a region may be unduly rendered static as it is localized.

This is not the mapmakers’ intent, however, far from it.

13. Where I live, in Northern California, the Gold Rush was in fact the first scene of the crime, an early scramble for mineral extraction that provoked a sanctioned if mad rush for land seizures, privatization, and despoliation of the terrain. The state of California famously legally ceded of multiple land grants have preserved title for Christian owners from its founding in 1851, bolstered by the legal conceit of a “doctrine of discovery” the title to lands of the old ranchos and missions as a territorial mosaic that was transmitted to Anglo owners along relatively set lines. Despite a relative pastiche of Spanish and indigenous names to title in these pastel-hued land grants and counties around the Bay Area, c. 1851, the maps lay claim to fixed boundaries and edges of what has come to be known as settler colonialism–

–and maps for those considering “emigrating to California” either as settlers or for business, in 1848 depicted the necessary sea routes to a land where a region indicated by a golden ochre lay inland from Santa Cruz, approximating a northward shifted Central Valley, in a mythos of acquisition that pushed all indigenous residents of Upper California into the interior, beyond the Sierra Nevada mountains, the sole province of Utah Indians, Mohauks, and other nomadic peoples, who had no title to the land.

The re-placement of Indians east of the Sierra Nevada in this 1849 preceded California statehood,, but would be reflected in the enslavement of all “Indian Lands” west of the Sierra Nevada in one of the new state’s first public decrees.

Gold Mining Region and the Routes for Traveling There (1849)

The location of the “Gold Country” wonderfully elides the four-color map with the color of value to be extracted form the land on which indigenous tribes lived, imagined as a relatively loosely bounded region on the map, intelligence of which dates back to 1578, but if reported by Spanish explorers never reached the Spanish court, but was now an open destination that is open to emigrants to claim as their own, in a region filled west of the Sierra by “savage tribes which no traveller has seen or described.” The “open kill” policy on those who lived in lands were seized and settlements destroyed in the Gold Country led to disparagement of native peoples who ate tubers, roots, and potatoes as “diggers,” evoking the seventeenth century English diggers who had preached the abolition of property and commerce. Was the derisive and false denigration of indigenous tribes as lacking private ownership an implicit denial of their rights or interest in holding private property or land? (When that term was openly reclaimed by the anarchist theatrical collective in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury about a century later more prominent was the seventeenth-century vision of a society without need for private property, boasting free association and free food distribution networks and rejecting private property.)

The absence of land ownership made disenfranchisement self-evident in the cartographic marginalization of indigenous living east of the Sierra Nevada. The sole location of indigenous populations in California outside the Gold Mining Region where settlers were directed was strategic and not accidental: as “savage tribes which no travelers has seen or described” were far from the region that promised value and prospecting in its golden glow, the tribes were in apparently deserted lands.

In fact, populations of native tribes by rangers and militia led to violent expropriation of lands. Long protected by the terrain of mountain ranges, from which they were not displaced or attacked by Spanish or Mexican colonists, tribes were violently forcibly relocated from villages and lands claimed for mining, removed in almost systematic fashion by privately organized groups of rangers to defend and protect Anglo claims to valued land. By shifting all tribes east of the Sierra Nevada, the map directed migrants seeking the Gold Region had emptied it of the indigenous inhabitants who had previously lived their undisturbed, voiding land claims and displacing them to the desert from the glittering Gold Region around the Sacramento River.

A Map Showing the Gold Mining Regions of California and Routes for Traveling There (New York, 1849)

The link of extraction to the omission of land claims indigenous peoples is abundantly evident in 1849. Preserved by the “Doctrine of Discovery,” the county lines that combined, as if seamlessly, native indigenous sounding and Spanish names melded the geography of ranchos and missions to the property claims, casting indigenous as without title on the map, and omitting those nations without property rights from the map, save in as evocative place names–“Yolo” or “Tuolomne”–now converted to areas of future land settlement by farming communities and vineyards, often, as “Sonoma” and “Mendocino,” named by Spanish navigators in honor or Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, all but expunging indigenous presence from the territorial map. Many counties are bright yellow, but in this New Map of the Gold Country, the “Gold Country” announced with decorative fanfare in its title is not bound as a destination, but implicit in the logic of extracting capital form the new borders of the surveyed land.

Map Legend, A new Map of the Gold Region (Stockton CA, 1851, rep. Sherman & Smith, New York)

14. Over the past few years, California’s Native Heritage Commission digital-atlas was designed to help students to “visualize California before, during, and after European occupation” describes the state of California as a site of “colonization” by both Spanish missions, Mexican land grants, and American Genocide, trying to grasp the increased confinement of Native Americans and indigenous by a range of settlers, a complex project of tallying the reservations and cessions of land within the area of California to help process the problem and clarify the perspective of current indigenous inhabitants to the state.

Indigenous communities are marginalized in lands often separated from agriculture desirability across rancherias, reservations, and allotments of different legal status and recognition, assembled by the California Native Heritage Commission as a way of tallying effects of cartographic marginalization of land claims in a compelling educational resource, explicitly not for drawing boundaries with legal status or for legal ends, but an attempt to process a double-edged narrative of loss and survival of ancestral lands–themselves of course long literally obscured from the map, of course, long before the state.

1866 Map of California, Guide Book of the Pacific

The Arc-GIS base map provides a middle ground to negotiate this history, sifting among treaties, lands of confinement, and currently recognized lands, against a basemap of ancestral claims, a basis for orienting viewers to heritage and history that seeks to be ethically sound as a way of processing a terrible genocidal past, as if to create a sense of common ground, using an optimistic light green to describe lands promised to tribal entities as reservations, linked to founding documents and treaties as a valuable educational resource.

But is the format of GIS layers the best way to orient one to further exploration of the indigenous presence in the state, or is it describing space in the categories “California” and the United States government bequeathed on tribal entities that it recognized,–

–often suggesting the scale of lands bequeathed in the Central Valley that are far more expansive than the lands of current reservations and rancheria, and indeed only in sharp contrast with the current allotment of recognized “Tribal lands”?

In the “Tribal Homelands” map, the overlapping place-names, borders and boundaries around the state capitol of Sacramento and Bay Area are confusing, hard to process, and unclear, the dense numbers of rancheria of local “tribe-lets” that were unrecognized in the past, suggesting a sense of dense settlement that might only exist on the map–if it is refreshing to see the ancestral lands assume new precedence in a familiar map. One returns to the local value of the view on the current map, announcing the presence that has been so long marginalized, and indeed emphasizing the fragmented isolation of rancheria, isolated in points of limited access to the ancestral lands that have been so drastically transformed.

Is crowd-sourcing a better way to achieve buy-in to a sense of stakeholding in a regional map? Or is this sense of DIY boundary-drawing not really the point, as much as the fluidity of the boundaries, which pop out for each region, lending an integrity to Coast Miwok, Oholone, Southern Pomo, Plains Miwok, Sierra Miwok, Northern Yuki and Patewan, among others, as a click, invests a far greater sense of presence and agency on the map, and indeed raises the question of how it might demand to be translated, if possible, to paper form, and to be taken off-line.

Native Land Screenshot, Bay Area

15. As much as renaming buildings, schools, and universities, this might be better cast as a deeper project of re-placing California. The re-placing that such maps would offer seem more of a rectification, symbolic but powerful, as we are haunted in the nation by the recent import of the nationalist myth of a Great Replacement, a trick of recasting mass-migration due to globalization as a conspiracy of elites in France from 2010, and designed to dilute if not erase French culture: appealing to the sense of entitlement to the lands they live in, and see as their right to preserve in echoes of a heimat or homeland, a concept that is rich in German Romantic poetry but was translated from the poetical to the political as response to industrialization and a loss of social status if not of homeland.

If the roots of heimat in an early modern sense of the German nation and vaterland gained new purchase as a form of patriotic defense in the industrial era, and a rejection of alienation of one’s relation to the land in industry, the Great Replacement replaced such emotional ties with an apocalyptic vision of the humanitarian crisis of mass migration in a globalizing world: reclad in terms of terror and genocide as a threatening of a racial order, the “Great Replacement” was dignified as “theory” in France, in ways that deployed many of the terms of the French Resistance–one speaks of elite “collaborators,” and immigrants as “occupiers” but channel the luddite xenophobic calls of the right-wing English Conservative Enoch Powell’s retrograde call for the repatriation of immigrants in 1968 to dis-enfranchised Midlanders threatened by the arrival of those Indian, Pakistani, African, and Caribbean migrants blamed for disrupting an economic status quo. The newfound currency of his rhetoric–and of Replacement “Theory”–in America among White Supremacists in America grew in mirror image of globalization, creating a paranoid existential panic.

This conveniently ignored the Genocide already occurred in California, from the mid-nineteenth century. The recasting of global migration patterns as the agency of elite capitalists aiming to disrupt an economic status quo adopted imagery of fear attacking “collaborationists” of complicity in cultural and racial substitution to inspire reflexive repulsion. The apocalyptic vision of the future of race relations as a national apocalypse were embraced by white supremacists readily, as if finding agency in defending a racial order as a response to global mass migration.

Yet perhaps “homelands” would be well to be remapped, and contemplated at large. The cartographic project of remediation by recognition of the scale of a genocide that set a model for others in the twentieth century would instead provides better tools to remember a genocide that has already happened. As much as Replacement “Theory” has been fueled by toxic questions of whether the “superiority of the white stock will persist in the future,” and the “civilizatory achievements . . . of the white Caucasian race,” in the words of Galician immigrant Ludwig von Mises, an emigrant Austrian economist of Jewish parentage, whose critique of open borders has become central to libertarianism: von Mises contrasted immigrants “who adopted the English language and American ways” to the economic disaster of open borders, fearing immigration without assimilation, that has been used to tag debates about immigrants in the age of mass-immigration, in the guise of theory of the rapid process of assimilation and arrival of migrants in small–“not . . . too great”–numbers.

The maps that might unmoor us from a narrative focussed in the nation that had displaced and disenfranchised past inhabitants, in the guise ownership and property claims, might help us asks us to attend to the tragic consequences of displacement and private property rights, if only to process the ethical qualities of historical processes that have for too long remained unmapped and in the dark shadows of the state, or in a conveniently obliterated past.

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Filed under California, native lands, Native Peoples, unceded lands, webmaps

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