Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Eds. note, Oct 11, 2016: See updated review: A Second Look at Aaron Carapella's Maps.

Some months ago, I began to see information about Aaron Carapella's map, "Native American Nations - Our Own Names & Locations." It is an admirable and ambitious project, and it held a great deal of promise... But.

The ways in which Carapella writes about the project is a bit off-putting. For example, he writes that "We also honor the Indigenous Nations of this land by giving them ownership of their own names for themselves." I don't know who "we" is (Carapella and his team?) but how do they have the power to give any nation ownership of its own name? Doesn't that sound a bit silly? It is not a small point. The whole point of the map, as I understand it, is to make it clear that Native Nations had concepts of nationhood prior to European contact. That included the names they used--and use--for themselves. Saying that he gives them ownership of their own names does the same thing outsiders did.

The map itself, he tells us, has the "original names" that a nation used (Numuunu instead of Comanche), but that sometimes, the name on Carapella's map is a "given name" because the original one is not known. As far as I can tell, the map itself does not tell us which ones are original and which ones are given.

Because of the massive amount of inaccurate information about American Indians that circulates in a wide range of media, it is especially important that a map such as Carapella's be accurate. I took a look at the part of the map that has Pueblo Indians on it. Carapella shows the current pueblos (some of them are not in what I deem "accurate" locations), but he's also got one on there (Piro) that he would probably put in his "numberless" category -- which I take to be no longer in existence. I think that Piro ought to be in a different font so that we know it is "numberless."

I cross checked the spellings he used for the pueblos and found several errors. That's too bad. That information is easy to get from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. In my cross-check, it looks like it may have been Carapella's source, but I could be wrong. Still, those spelling errors make me wonder about the spelling of other Indian nations on the map. From a colleague, I learned that Carapella made similar errors with tribes in California.

If you bought a map already and want to make corrections to the errors for the Pueblo Nations, you can do this as a learning activity with students. First, get out Carapella's map. Second, look at the spreadsheet below (downloadable from Carapella's site). The right column is what Carapella calls "given" names. Third, find that given name on the website for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and see what is listed there as the "traditional" name for that tribe. Fourth, see if it matches what Carapella has on his map. If not, make a correction.

You could also look at the tribal seal. For example, on the page for Nambe, the traditional name is listed as "Nambe" but our complete name is on the tribal seal:   "Nambé O-Ween-Gé."

As noted above, Carapella's project is ambitious and has a great deal of potential but I think it needs some visual way of conveying important information ("given" versus "original" names; existing versus "numberless" tribes) and I also think it needs to be sourced.

Update, July 28, 2014:

In addition to comments below, please see the discussion on the Native American and American Indian Issues page on Facebook. Carapella posted a link to the NPR piece on that page yesterday (July 26th). The first response to his post is from Joe Horse Capture, a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian, who said that the map is inaccurate, spreads misinformation, and that he hasn't met any curators or academics who find the map accurate. In his comment, Chad Obiwanishinaabe Uran, a visiting lecturer in American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, pointed to AICL and to a post at Tumblr that lists several concerns with the map. (Update, July 19, 2016: Carapella deleted the post at the Native American and American Indian Issues page, presumably because he did not like the questions he was receiving about the map).


Marlette said...

I've contacted the young man (Aaron Carapella - because I was inundated with emails asking me to buy his map) and told him my concerns after checking the Northern California section (the area I’m very familiar with) and he thought I was just some mean “non-native” person trying to bring him down.
I suggested that he actually contact tribes and possibly use some maps that are already available showing approximate tribal boundaries…. Because yet again just adding our languages to Western educational material doesn’t mean it’s Native. I understand that Mr. Carapella is a “self-taught” cartographer… and from the little research I’ve done He is a Marketing graduate 2005 from Indiana Tech.
I posted the following comment on NPR's site.....
"Very Cool Idea, but as I have said to Mr. Carapella before, it is not accurate! Even if you list just the 566 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and use their own language to say their names he has left out MANY! This map of California ( would have at least helped him to contact the California tribes to get correct names and placements. Example.... Howunakut is the name of a village site in Northern California's Tolowa territory, not the name of a people. So don't say you did all the research when you didn't."
I understand that this is a huge project that Mr. Carapella undertook, but you would think that due diligence would come into play on a project that you or I were going to market.
Again we as educators are faced with little to know materials available to us to educate the general public about Native/Indigenous history, culture, place… but is in accurate material better than no material?

I personally asked to be taken off his mailing list, unless changes were made. I will not buy this map for my Resource Center.

Marlette Grant-Jackson (Yurok tribal member) Cultural Resource Coordinator HSU-ITEPP

Anonymous said...

I am vaguely reminded of the movement to use more accurate world maps that aren't biased politically. The same trouble occurs in most people being befuddled by its existence and as such the impact will be limited. As for this map which is circulating just about everywhere it can I was unimpressed. Initially I didn't notice any problems until my eyes hit the region of Nova Scotia, Canada. Only two Mi'kmaq tribes were alluded too. I understand there will be limits given the land masses size visibly, but when you make the claim to show real tribes only including two of seven districts either you are showing lack of research or disregard. What I think the author should do from here is to take his map and expand it as a interactive feature that can expand as people make themselves known.

Gena Peone said...

Overall, I didn't recommend it when asked about a purchase. Especially because our immediate Northern Plateau tribal names and areas were incorrect. We make our own maps that identify our traditional homeland territory. We don't really need to fit into the national one. But I agree fully that continuing misinformation, by a native or otherwise does not serve to benefit those who are making an effort to provide accurate and culturally relevant information available to their students and patrons. Again, good idea, but as you indicate, the execution does not meet the criteria set forth by the designer as far as accuracy is concerned. Best left to the Tribes to participate if they want to by providing that critical knowledge rather than estimate or determine independently from an outsiders view.

Anonymous said...

As a librarian and journalist, I agree wholeheartedly that this map needed more time and research devoted to it before being released. Its creator also should include a source document, which I hope would name at least three reliable, verifiable sources for each piece of information on the map.

I respectfully disagree, however, with the idea that such endeavors be left to Natives or tribes. If someone wants to conduct research about anything or anyone, their personal ancestry or affiliation should not preclude them from such a project. Speaking about the U.S. specifically, far too many groups of people possess this outlook, which only serves to divide rather than unite. In my opinion, we should encourage this kind of interest among each other, in hopes that through positive feedback, guidance, and potential collaboration, the general population becomes more educated rather than remains ignorant or too intimidated to pursue truth. We have enough of the latter taking place in all levels of the education system across the nation.

Erin said...

Does Alaska even appear on any of his maps? I don’t think he has Hawaii on there either. I was a bit put out that he did not include all of the US. However, maybe I should be glad because it seems like this would be a great collaborative effort between Nations. It also seems like something that would be beyond political boundaries.

E Bettinger said...

Thanks for this post. I was led to it after seeing the NPR post, and then seeing your message on the MAPS-L list.

As a non-native one-time journalist and now librarian, my primary disappointment lies with NPR for promoting the map as definitive and unique. Their coverage appears to me as one instance in a troubling pattern of mainstream journalists to present the perspective or assertions of one particular native person as absolutely authoritative about the state of all Indian communities, people and experiences. I see less of an effort on the part of non-native journalists to check the claims made by one solitary individual when covering native issues than other kinds of issues.

Kathy White said...

I am a Cherokee Genealogist and when I have asked Mr. Carapella his Cherokee family connections all I get is a stone wall. He is married to a full blood Cherokee, but in looking into his family I do not believe he is even a Cherokee descendant. This is very sad....

Paul Luchter said...

Long Island off of New York State: There is great question about the "13 tribes of Long Island" as to whether this is just aa fanciful construct of a 19th century local historian. For instance, "Canarsee" is now thought to be a Munsee Delaware (or other local language) word for "fenced land"

Anonymous said...

I didn't find this page earlier using the Search field -- but someone on a Listserv pointed out this review to me: and now I am worried that my promoting of these maps is questionable. I know that Aaron Carpella has since updated his maps (and made many more) -- Debbie, did you get a chance to review the updated versions?

Also I saw the Facebook page that you said was taken down which still contains all the comments and arguments:

It makes for really enlightening read.