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Introduction In 2012, Aaron Carapella finished a map of North America titled Map of our Tribal Nations: Our Own Names and Original Locations. Since boyhood , Carapella had been dismayed by his inability to find a proper map of Indian homelands. “You can get maps of what our reservations look like now,” he later explained to a reporter, “and you can get maps that have, like, the 50 main tribes. But I was interested in what our land really looked like circa 1490, before Columbus got here.”1 Unable to locate the map he wanted, the nineteen-year-old activist for Native rights made his own. “It’s time to make a real map of Native America, as we see it,” he decided.2 A self-taught mapmaker, Carapella spent fourteen years traveling around the country, scouring libraries, visiting reservations, and communicating with tribal elders—all to determine where the 584 groups he inscribed on his map were located before Columbus and what they would have called themselves in their own language. On Carapella’s map, “Comanche” and “Navajo,” for example, have been replaced by “Numinu” and “Diné.” By 2014, Carapella’s map depicted more than six hundred tribal nations and sold nearly four thousand copies. Indian Country Today, the Navajo Times, and National Public Radio all did stories on his cartographic creation. A textbook company bought the rights to use two of his maps, and a documentary film company began work on a movie about Carapella’s projects, which had expanded to include Mexico, Alaska, Canada, and South America.3 2 / introduction Controversy accompanied the notoriety. Commenters on Native social media networks began questioning the map’s validity. Some argued that names were incorrect or misspelled. For example, a Southern Cheyenne commented that Carapella used Tsitsistas instead of the more accurate Tsétsėhést hese to denote the Cheyenne, while another commenter wrote that Carapella had confused the Howunakut village site with the name of a people. Deeper critiques also appeared. One reader highlighted the problematic nature of condensing thousands of years before Columbus into a single chronological snapshot, and another pointed out the anachronistic use of “nations” as a central organizing principle.4 This criticism moved beyond the comments sections. A University of Illinois scholar created a sheet of Carapella’s errors regarding the Pueblo Nations. This scholar questioned Carapella’s assertion that he gave tribes ownership of their own names. How does he have the “power to give any nation ownership of its own name?” she asked. “Doesn’t that sound a bit silly?”5 A Washington State graduate student’s Tumblr feed systematically rebuked Carapella’s project on a page titled “Aaron Carapella’s ‘Tribal Nations’ Maps Do Not Do Justice to Indigenous Nations and Here’s Why.” The author found fault not only in Carapella’s execution but in deeper issues as well. “How is a map constrained by colonial borders a map of who we truly are as nations?” she asked. “This is not consistent with ideas of nationhood grounded in specific Native cultures.” Drawing maps that included “Western ideas of nationhood or territory,” the post claimed, is “wrong and counterproductive to decolonization.”6 Or, as another commenter argued, since mapmaking is “deeply connected to a non-Indigenous set of values,” the sheer existence of Carapella’s map reinforced colonial power.7 Some of the most heated comments arose from the tension between indigenous concepts of territoriality and the American nation-state. “We make our own maps that identify our traditional homeland and territory. We don’t really need to fit into a national one,” one commenter wrote.8 When another poster suggested that ignoring the boundaries created by four hundred years of colonial boundaries could reinforce tropes of timeless Indianness, another responded by questioning the author’s identity: “Fuck the colonialism! Being native is understanding what your identity is. Are you native?”9 Intending to make a map to “instill pride in Native people,” Carapella’s creation had instead thrust him into the morass of Indian identity politics. The controversy over Carapella’s map is—at its heart—a disagreement over how Native people should narrate their past. The conflict centers introduction / 3 on how much to privilege culturally specific ways of understanding the world in the Indians’ stories about themselves and their relationship to the nation-state.10 Although this question permeates most investigations into American Indian history—and indigenous history more broadly— maps can distill the debate in ways that narrative...


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