Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Blurred Boundaries and Indigenous Lands

Geodesy has long increased the number of claims by extractive industries through remote sensing, and especially over indigenous lands. Yet crowd-sourced tools of geolocation have also enabled a range of counter-maps of indigenous native land claims that have pushed back on how industries that have increased access to the resources buried beneath the very lands to which indigenous groups have ancestral claims. Indeed, inovative webmaps like NativeLands.com provide not only a new standard for cartographic literary, but offer an ethical redress of the lost of lands indigenous have roundly suffered from the uninvited Anglo settlers of North America. For although the maps of Anglo settlers–attracted by the shifting global markets for goods, from cotton, to gold, to petroleum, all claimed without consent from their longtime inhabitants–erased or omitted local claims to land by those seen as nomadic, and of an earlier historical developmental stage, with a cutting logic of relegating their very presence to the past, the reframing of collective memories to inhabiting lands and regions offers a plastic and particularly valuable cartographic resource for remediating the future.

Although lack of fixed boundaries on native lands have long provided an excuse to stake claims that exclude inhabitants who are seen as nomadic, or not settled in one place, and laying claim or title to it, and “without maps,” the blurred boundaries of NativeLands re-places longtime residents on the map, wrestling with the long-term absence of indigenous on the map. There is a sense, in the crowd-sourced optimism that recalls the early days of OpenStreetMap and HOT OSM, of the rewriting of maps and the opening of often erased land claims that crashed like so many ruins that accumulate like a catastrophe as wreckage that has piled at the feat of an Angel of History who is violently propelled by the winds to the future, so she is unable to ever make the multiple claims and counter-claims in the wreckage at her feet whole, and the pile of ruins constituted our sense of the progress of the present, even as it grows toward the sky.

Yet the very cartographic tools that facilitate international petrochemical corporations to target lands valued for mineral production with unprecedented precision have helped to stake a claims for the land’s value that undercut local claims to sovereignty, never staked earlier so clearly. It is as if, within the specters of extractive industries’ deep desire to possess the targeted energy reserves, and at the end of a history of dispossession and destruction, the indigenous that were systematically killed and removed from their lands over the nineteenth century, at whose close 90-99% were killed, in a massive and unprecedented theft of land, forcing them from migratory habits to receive religious instruction and live on bound lands to which they were confined. (In Canada, where NativeLands was first based, such displacement began from the clearing herds of bison herds from Prairies to begin construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the principle commercial artery to the West, that had by 1869 shifted indigenous resources to rations that rarely arrived, to be replaced by cattle on lands settled by European famrers and style of agriculture. As Plenty Coups, facing the extinction of a way of life on Crow lands, as their nation was abolished, “when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift hem up again: after this, nothing happened.”

Time stopped because the imposition of new modes of agrarian regime recast native lands as terra nullius to be settled by Anglo and European farmers, a surrender of land title from 1871-1921 that nullified local land claims. The cartographer and framer of the U.S. Census, newly appointed to what would be the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Francis Amasa Walker conducted the first review of 300,000 Native American in the United States of 1874, trying to sort out the theft of land over four hundred treaties. Walker’s agency was not clear, but if he bemoaned theft of ancestral lands fertile and rich with game, confined in land that could not support them and dependent on rations, there is some sort of redress in how the NativeLands maps invites us to retrace the sessions of lands that undermined these tribal claims, and erased these nations, not deemed fit to have place or stake belonging in American made maps that Walker helped to codify, placing the loss of land that Plenty Coups did so much to try to protect and retain, against all odds, in making trips to Washington DC to allow Crow claims to survive in this new White Man’s world. Even if the claims that he preserved were less than they ahd been originally allotted–just 80%–he forestalled desires to claim land for gold prospecting and mineral extraction that are effectively on the cutting block once again today.

By 1892, the Territories of the five civilized “Indian” tribes, west of the Mississippi, confined in fixed frontiers after the forced migration in a process of Indian Removal of indigenous east of the Mississippi, later forced to resettle in the early 1820s into the area adjoining modern Oklahoma, where indigenous already lived, renamed “Indian Territory” but within newly fixed bounds. What was a rich area of hunting and without permanent settlement was long understood as their own lands, but were absent from maps until the relocation of “civilized tribes” into the boundaries of Indian Territory, imposing a new notion of territoriality on Indian Lands that delegitimized nomadic presence in earlier native lands–tribes whose presence was “civilized” as they had gained governments and legal traditions modeled on America.

Map of the Indian and Oklahoma Territories (1893)/Library of Congress

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 dominant global currency of the day to which ancestral lands are compelled to accommodate.

This post seeks to address ongoing questions of land use decisions that are of increasing importance in an era of shifting ecological niches and ecosystems by pollution. While the lines of indigenous territory were long discounted and seen as less easily translated into terms of territoriality–the roaming or spatial dispersion of households of indigenous bands over a vast area were seen as not having a fixed perimeter, or a “map-like representation” of territory and a communitarian notion of land-use–whose “use” of a territory was foreign to concepts of a nation, or able to be compared to the bounded territoriality settler communities understood their own worlds., or territorial demarcations and partitioning, and foreign to “true land ownership”–their maps did not indicate lines of property ownership.

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

The abrogation of treaties is nothing new to the history of indigenous claims from the nineteenth century to ancestral 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.

But if the patchwork of red dots denoting mineral claims seem located with a terrible certainty in historical and modern settled treatises, tools of mapping have opened indigenous perspective on land claims as a form of private property and ancestral lands that 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. While Locke developed ideas of property while working for the Secretary for the Royal Council on Trade and Plantations in the Carolinas, eager to settle areas of “New World” to benefit Atlantic trade, crafting a constitution for the Carolinas, based on the cultivation of those lands that indigenous “failed” to cultivate, the export of the current underground resources lying in land claims currently being renegotiated is based on a terrifyingly similar logic.

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?

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

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 similar logic haunted how Henry David Thoreau described the benefits of displacing indigenous inhabitants, in 1861, as a historical logic that might be found 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. And while we often see these claims as “modern” in their reliance of using maps to claim lands for a global energy market–if it is only the latest commodity to secure unchallenged status as a public good of global consensus. The reservations on which most indigenous were confined as deemed less valuable or desired land, in a process of geographic displacement and forced migration that began after the Gold Rush in California but could be traced to the arrival of planters in the southeast coast of the colonies, but was suddenly creating a run on property claims in the Sierra foothills to which the world’s eyes seemed to turn, as emigration to the Gold Country set a new standard for mapping the global ties to the Gold Country long before the accurate geodetic determination for extracting a universally acknowledge good.

Important Directions to Persons Emigrating to California

The periplus-like legend that was paired with the composite hemispheric and regional map of Upper or New California offered guides for enterprising travelers to set eyes on the newly mapped western state, the accompanying legend acknowledging the lodestone, as “gold mines of California . . . known to have existed in the sixteenth century, for as early as 1578, about the time Sir Francis Drake made voyage to the coast,” Jesuits had gained possession of “certain tracts which they knew of more than ordinary value,” whose value they depreciated by false reports: but now the map delivered this valuable insider knowledge that never commanded attention of the Spanish court, but was now safely in the hands of whoever owned the map to allow global emigration to the “fertile and picturesque dependent country, [distinguished by the] mildness and salubrity of its climate” that is with a “latitudinal position that of Lisbon” whose global geographic position makes it one of the most desirable “point of commerce, in this or any continent,. . . destined to be one of the greatest disbursing depots in the world.”

The global circulation of goods were spectacularly invoked to displace native land claims in wyas that didn’t even require geodesists, as a spectacular conjuncture of capital displacing land claims. For the 1879 mapping of global routes to the Gold country, the year that the coutnry adopted the Gold standard, oriented audiences ready to get rich quick the necessary “important directions” for orienting themselves to claims in the Gold Country of California–the same years at which “Indian” reservations were effectively marginalized outside the state, when Francis Amasa Walker remapped the western states to cast white populations in mauve apart from the indigenous hunting grounds or reservations set off in bright orange in official maps drafted as Commissioner for Indian Affairs, modeled on the maps on rainfall and natural resources he had compiled for inclusion within the decennial U.S. Census of 1870.

from Francis Amasa Walker, The Indian Question” (1874)

If these rigorusly bound reservations and hunting grounds followed clear lines of jurisdiction determined by latitude and longitude, preserving many of the tribal names situated in a clearly demarcated “Indian Territory,” the surveyed bounds confirmed a broad displacement of indigenous across western states.

The map placed the Gold Country in national if not global visibility, before GPS, or geodesy, centered on placing the valued commodity of the day in easy reach. The topically colored region–tinted in ways that hinted the riches bound to be seen underground–was suddenly in access of all, advertised as able to be reached by boat via Panama or Cape Horn or the midwest, invoking an early globalization to erase and displace local land claims. The “gold regions” were in fact long inhabited Indian lands. The map shows the region as if mapped anew, soon after the first massacres of indigenous in a spate of “Gold Country” maps confirmed the voiding of all title tribes might have had, with little trace or reminder the historic presence of the peoples who once lived in the region save by the historic resonance of evocative place names, Longfellow style. It was shown ready for resettlement–or “settlement”–in growth small towns as Sacramento, later the state capital, without reminder of the migrant tribes resettled on confined inland land, far from the coast or the fertile Central Valley. One can only sense a whiff in almost mythical regions (as Yuba and Yola) or the aptly named “El Dorado” attracted eyes to rolling hills where riches were to be made: regions today best known not for gold but fires, the over-settled Wildlands-Urban Interface.

The currency gold gained as a universal standard in the first years of the gold standard adopted that very year treated gold as a universal logic of land claims for areas effectively prepared to be rendered as open to settlement, having been purged of inhabitants, and erased from the maps that were sold of “the mining district” in increasing numbers, that can be cast as a growing cartographic literacy purging California as a multi-ethnic state.

Wiilliam A. Jackson, Map Of The Mining District of California 1851
from Jackson’s Map Of The Mining Districts Of California 1851

Courtesy David Rumsey Map Library, Stanford University

The relatively rapid shift in title to the land from 1848 that would be all but accomplished within thirty years, as by 1879, the American Genocide all but completed some years earlier, two decades after Anglo newspapers opened an unofficial “war of extermination . . . until the last redskin of these tribes has been killed” to take the gold-rich lands as their own, and gold the national standard invested it with global currency and a logic of land seizure.

Lands opened for prospecting were not marked as being cleared by permanent displacement, a massive resettlement effort that prefigured the displacements of the twentieth century, but focussed on the lustrous gold arrowhead hand-tinted in an 1879 map as a destination promising the bounty of extractable wealth from its rivers, mountains, and valleys ready for the taking by all able to pay costs of passage as a near-universal “right” of access to this map that shows California as if island, shown at larger scale in an odd frame situated in the Pacific, as a new land where new rules applied, but where all could access by shipping channels from other continents, drawn to this one site by the lure of the glowing gold ready to be pried from being lodged in the region of California inland from the coast. west off the Great Interior Basin, as the world must have been suddenly heading and focussing attention on the mecca of the newly affirmed universal standard of financial currency in a globally contracted world.

Gold Regions in Calfornia, Showing the routes via Chagres and Panama, Cape Horne, & c
Ensigns & Thayer. New York: 1849, courtesy Donald Rumsey Map Center, Stanford University Library

The long tradition in such maps was to exclude an indigenous perspective. But 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?

This question, long pressing but rarely recognized as pressing to address, was subsumed by the logic of capital and the demands for extraction, either in the maps of oil extraction in the header to this post, or the Gold Country maps, placing less emphasis on boundaries than the ability to target, access, and export to a market whose demand trumps the local customs of the inhabitants of the place–far from the Far Utah Indians living far inland, or “Utah Indians,” but offering a separate plot that immediately attracts the viewer’s eye to rest on this region of “Upper or New California” newly open to all who sought all that glitters, as if it were a land of luxury, an island generating huge wealth for the taking, even if it wasn’t an island at all.

But California wasn’t at all an island for practices of forced displacement or territorial claims,–more like a workshop or staging zone for practices of extermination and land seizure of the twenty and twenty-first century. That maps might preserve the memory in which indigenous not only live, but long inhabited, could recast the 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 the very idea of the existence or collective memory of earlier land claims.

And as Thanksgiving comes as an opportune 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, this post took a deep dive, as it were, in musing about the possibly preserving native claims in maps. For many indigenous in North America, indeed, 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.

The new 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 TribalLand.ca 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? Such are the questions posed as the longstanding inequities of dispossession of lands, heightened perhaps by recognition of the failures of custodianship of environmental health, but providing increasingly undeniable dilemmas not only of the naming of place, but the ghosts in the closet of our civil society.

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 TribalLands.com, 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.

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, NativeLands.ca

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 NativeLands.ca 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 swiftly reduced native land claims in Canada to a mere .2% of the nation, as we come to terms with the destructive role maps occupied in vacating native claims to land-ownership by voiding all memorial value of indigenous 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.

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Filed under American genocide, California, data visualizations, native lands

What We Really Want to Eat?

Shortly after New York Times produced an elegant pictorial map of Thanksgiving recipes in each state, to emphasize the varied bounties of our national cuisine, the Upshot opted to rethink how to map the meal.  Rather than concentrating on whetting taste buds, they consulted the new masters of the web to depict the current foodscape–a subject of increasing cartographical scrutiny.  By inviting Google researchers to mine data for a map of most-searched Thanksgiving recipes, to trace local variations in what sorts of foods are on folks’ minds.  As much as being the staples, or the family traditions, these Googled recipes seem the real crowd-pleasers, the seasonal favorites less indulged during the year.  The map tracks the latest permutation of a festival that probably began with native Americans’ collective dances and rituals to secure successful future harvest embraced by puritan pilgrims and later adopted as a national holiday; as much as map making constitutes a nation, world maps of searched recipes meals oddly renders a national holiday of thanks.

The word-search map of “most-looked for and most distinct types” distributes Thanksgiving foods by word searches specific to states.  As much as an actual lay of the land, the word-map provides an inside-out version of the pictorial map of favorite holiday dishes, as Googlers identified the most-searched for recipe by state in what was deemed a “democratic” counterpart of what is currently cooked for Thanksgiving tables across the fifty states and Puerto Rico.  While not constituting much of an an invasion of privacy, the results present a striking picture of the national palate.  It does suggest, in ways unlike the pictorial map of home-made regional recipes, both a tendency to uniformity and a growing distance between farm and table–if not the disappearance of farms–in what was long billed as the harvest holiday.  What, exactly, is being harvested is not that easily able to be described, although it suggests the changes wreaked by supermarket-bought foods–or just supermarket chains–in our nation’s edible geography, if not in our sense of gemütlichkeit.

The nonprofit conservation organization known as the National Wild Turkey Federation has mapped the wide ranges of wild turkeys across the nation, revealing the wide access to turkey across much of the most settled regions of the continent.




When the New York Times mapped the “most searched for, most distinct types” of food across the country in time for Thanksgiving, it did suggest that some of the more esoteric store-bought alternative recipes that might make it to American tables varied widely in the distance of states from an actually turkey market.  The results included many local favorites, but were not that encouraging on the front of healthy winter foods, or able to offer much of a foodscape than a mapping of the foods on folks’ minds, if not those that are made in bulk, and offer a strange harvest of edibles which the families gather round dining tables to eat:

Thanksgiving Menu Map

New York Times


The non-geographically-specific nature of this map of the cornucopia of foodstuffs that folks seek to confect for Thanksgiving is perhaps it’s most striking quality–if not the limited number of food groups it includes.  Despite the diversity of food-names, several striking bands suggesting continuity of culinary preferences emerge in the map of most-googled items searched with thanksgiving dinners across in the country that suggest a manner of carving up what’s on offer on tables–a run of squash in the northeast; a clustering of cakes in the deep south; wild rice in the northern midwest of Wisconsin and Minnesota; a variety of candy-enhanced fruit salads that seems specific to the Northwest–and in contrast to the more southern taste for sweet baked desert or the Missouri taste for green rice casserole.  Of course, Mirliton Casserole is a nice indulgence of shrimp for the Gulf Coast and Louisiana, albeit at the tail-end of the inland shrimp harvest (although frozen does fine).

We move into shopping for sugary salads for much of the landlocked western and central plains, however:


Cookie SaladNew York Times


It’s not surprising the folks in Montana are thinking about fruit salad, but the broad popularity of “frog eye salad” in neighboring Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming suggests something other than an abundance of amphibians, but a taste for sugary fruits that seems decidedly regional in their appeal–the concoction of pineapple, eggs, coconut and mandarin oranges with marshmallows is akin to the nearby desserts of the midwestern Candyland of Cookie Salad and Snicker Salad, but represents a distinct variation on a theme, reflecting folks loading up on sucrose and glucose for the cold weather of winter.  “Dirt pudding” isn’t only the result of desperation or a shortage of cash in Ohio, but an Oreo cookie and vanilla pudding concoction often decorated with gummy worms, suggesting mental distance from actual farms.  The Northeast fad for Pumpkin Whoopie Pie is a variation on holiday-themed deserts, based on the sort of autumn foods, like persimmon, if a twist from what one might expect to be on the traditional Thanksgiving table.


Cnady Land


There is a striking American obsession with dessert has interesting inflection in its focus on cake throughout the south–4-Layer Delight in Arkansas; Key Lime Cake in Georgia; Pineapple Casserole in South Carolina; Chess Bars in Tennessee; cinnamon and vanilla Sopapilla Cheesecake in Oklahoma; Hawaiian Salad in Illinois and Persimmon Pudding, a local treat in Indiana, where it grows wild in abundance, even if it’s originally native to the southeastern states–which one might tie to the alarming recent trends the CDC has offered on obesity in the United States, but seems a cheap shot for the holidays.




If these are the foods that most Americans are busy preparing to put on their holiday tables, are the other recipes being handed down or bought as prepared foods?  To be sure, wild rice Brownberry Stuffing of wild rice and mushrooms has a nice Wisconsin ring, and pairs with Minnesotans interest in Wild Rice Casserole, even if it met with local skepticism.  But while folks in Portland are opting to search for vegan mushroom gravy for their tofurkeys or mashed potatoes, and in Seattle can afford the smoked Salmon dip, they are the outliers.  We might group with them residents of New Mexico looking at leftovers with “turkey enchiladas” or the Virginians who love their collard greens, but these seem last-minute searches not so central to the Thanksgiving menu.

By far the most Americans seem looking to indulge in high levels of corn syrup and calories to live it up with friends, but rather than focussing on obesity trends in America, one might focus on the proximity of the table to farm.  (Pretzel Salad isn’t exactly farm-to-table.)  To be sure, perhaps a Google Search is not much evidence for what’s consumed on the table.  Maybe googled recipes are made by those without their own family cookbooks in the kitchen, or just comparing alternate desserts for the holidays.  Perhaps, indeed, after watching Citizenfour for the Holidays, most folks realize the NSA is likely to be reading their searches, and intentionally circumscribe searches, even for what they’re ready to eat.  Or, a bit more likely, it suggests the limits of what information NSA folks can get from Google searches.  But is it possible that folks aren’t looking online for times for the basting of their turkeys, or do they just prefer to get such information from a human voice that can be questioned about specific details of culinary preparations, but trust the web for a special branch of last-minute additions to already prepared menus?

The map of Google searches, if not suggesting a reaction to Michael Pollan’s suggestion we eat more greens, may well reflect just how far away we’ve grown from farms and farmed harvests.  That isn’t much new news in itself.  In 2011, the USDA’s agricultural census (agcensus.usda.gov) offered a basis for a compelling Esri “story map” or spatial narrative of just how far food travels to tables for most Thanksgiving meals.   The nice bubble map includes the provenance of the turkeys from big agribusiness in the Midwestern states or the central eastern states, with a considerable cluster from the farms in California’s Central Valley, even those birds blessed by Bill Niman–but are very predictably focused on regions where there is already a pre-existing plenty of soybeans and corn to feed turkeys–which is why they are few and far between from Montana to Texas, or Kansas to Utah.  That turkeys seem raised overwhelmingly in very a restricted region on the map seems a casualty of American agribusiness, if raised by the millions–and served up 46 million birds to create the illusion of plenty on dining room tables–to signify holiday cheer.  (This despite their relatively wide small-size farming in much of the midwest.)

When we place a turkey on the table, lest we forget most are shipped up to half way across the United States, we might review the story map below:


Turkeys 2011Smithsonian/ESRI maps


The bulk of the population of turkeys that feed the nation seem in 2011 are agglomerated, by the tens of millions, in farms in North Carolina and Virginia, which, with those in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana and Arkansa, feed the nation.  The predominance of turkeys raised in North Carolina, origin of much turkey served in the south and central states, is striking; maybe Minnesota feeds the midwest.


Midwest and NC TurkeysSmithsonian/ESRI maps


Moving along the sourcing of the Thanksgiving menu, the similar concentration of the solidly southern sweet potato, the vegetable most destined beside the turkey, must be noted, before we move on to the green beans:


Sweet potatoes


(Back in 2009, the newspaper of record used the top search terms in Allrecipes.com as an index to map what folks across the country cooked by GIS, to arrive at a geographical clustering of sweet potato casserole of unsurprising similarity:  despite the more national purview of pumpkin pie.)

For the record, and to map the full Esri story, or allow that story to speak, green beans were widely cultivated in 2011, providing a taste of the local for the table as well as a visually pleasing dash of light green–save in those places where fruit salads of undefined provenance were particularly popular Google searches:


greeen beans


But the real persistence of localism in the arrivals on the table seems rooted not in the origins of the meat or the yams, but in the persistence of localism of the cultivation of cranberries–that indelibly red fruit element that complements turkey.  Fresh cranberries seem to signify something like a custodian of local culinary tradition in many of the very same regions where folks searched for the least confected foods:  dependent on environmental particularity, their survival as a crop in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon is tied to old agriculture, which may well be tied to the searching for staples as vegan stuffing, wild rice casserole, wild rice stuffing, mashed butternut squash that bode the survival of the winter vegetable.  Will this change with global warming, and the increased aridity of most of the New World fields?




The persistent localism of farmed cranberries is a sort of index of the survival of agrarian geography–


Wisconsin cranberries


PErsistence of localism in cranberries-MA


–and, in one slightly optimistic if also unwarranted reading, of a persistent taste for the locally grown.

The specific conditions for the cultivation of crops of cranberry, which demand bogs and abundant wetlands, and a period of winter, leaves it both the talismanic reminder of seasonal crops with which we’re left in late November, the reminder of the agricultural calendar of the stuff on the table–together with the persimmons of southern Indiana and perhaps the collard greens of Virginia.  Furthest from the agrarian time cycle, it seems, Google searches tend to the far more readily at hand/least processed to the most confected.

Perhaps the annual transport of sweet potatoes and some 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving entails also make one realize the illusory culinary diversity the Times mapped:  perhaps we wish that fewer folks would continue improvising desert rather than shipping trussed birds cross-country, or keep accompanying the carving of the bird that is bulked up with water, stuffing, and potatoes with a suitably over-the-top dessert.

The maps remove us from a tactile relation to the edible harvest feast we might well pause to mourn.


Salvatore LascariSalvatore Lascari (1884-1967), Thanksgiving, n.d. Smithsonian American Art Museum


Filed under mapping agribusiness, mapping foods, mapping local foods, mapping meat, mapping thanksgiving, mapping turkey farms, national foodscapes