Steven Newcomb: Putting Indian nations on maps
"It is beyond dispute that American Indian nations were originally free and independent of the thoughts and ideas of Europeans. For thousands of years, Christian Europeans obviously had at that time no influence over the lives and existence of American Indian peoples.

When the European adventurers first arrived to North America, some took extensive notes about the aboriginal peoples and described the flora and fauna. Some created maps. The maps were imaginative artistic representations of Indian lands. The European map makers used their artistry as a means of depicting Indian lands as rightfully belonging to various European monarchies.

As the European map makers began to draw lines on paper in the process of making maps, they either ignored the existence of Indians altogether, or else portrayed the originally free and independent Indian nations as existing “inside” or “within” the boundaries of the artistically created European areas variously called “territories,” “colonies,” or “states.”

In 1776, 13 British colonies, situated along the North American Atlantic seaboard, declared themselves to be 13 free and independent states. Map making was part of the process of creating a new political identity for the declared states, and their fledgling confederacy. After the 1783 Treaty of Paris between Great Britain and the United States, all lands north and west of the Ohio River, up to the Canadian border, were considered to be the Northwest Territory of the United States.

As the territorial claims of the United States were constantly shifting, new maps depicted the United States as “moving” or “expanding” westward and new states as being formed. By means of those maps, non-Indian map makers began to artistically depict Indian nations and their traditional territories as existing “within” a particular non-Indian “territory,” or “within” the boundary of a specific state, as well as “within” the United States."

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Mapping Indian nations (Indian Country Today 7/10)

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