Mapping Indigenous Autonyms in Canada

Half a year ago, I wrote about the project "Map of Our Tribal Nations." The map displayed (or attempted to display) all of the indigenous nations that inhabited the lands now making up the Lower 48, naming them by their autonyms (names for themselves in their own languages).

At the time, creator Aaron Carapella promised he would later publish a map of all Canada's indigenous nations and their names. Since then, he has—the Canadian First Nations Map—and afterward he encouraged me to review it. Now I will.

Like the map of the Lower 48 American states, this map appears incredibly successful, displaying many different autonyms. In fact, I'm not even very qualified to comment on most of the map, but I am interested in its portrayal of the Northwest Coast, since that's the indigenous region I've studied in depth.

northwest coast portion of Carapella's map
There are a few problems I noted with this area. First of all, the Coast Tsimshian (Tsʼmsyan) people are missing. "Gitxaala" is listed, but as I understand it, that's basically just one village of Tsimshian people, not the entirety of the group.

Secondly, the Nisgaʼa are mislabelled with "Tsimshian" placed beneath as their conventional name in English. The name Tsimshian was applied to the Nisgaʼa in the past, itʼs true, but that was a mistake: Their languages are related but the groups are not the same. The conventional name in English for Nisgaʼa is now Nisgaʼa.

Then come the Lingít (Tlingit): Interestingly, Carapella made the decision to label nearly all of the individual Lingít ḵwáan (geographic community groupings) on his map, despite the fact that most ḵwáan lie outside of Canada in Alaska. (Ḵéex̱ʼ Ḵwáan, however, is conspicuously overlooked.)

As much as I love Lingít history and culture, I don't think I would have made the same cartographic decision. If the map is supposed to display the autonyms of Canada's first nations, then only a few of the Lingít ḵwáan should appear on the map—Áa Tlein Ḵwáan and Deisleen Ḵwáan for sure, and then perhaps Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan and Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan. Additionally, why would the Lingít nation in particular have its constituent geographic groups differentiated in the same way, when other groups don't get the same treatment?

In any case, Aaron Carapella's Canadian First Nations Map delivers on its promise of being a great display of indigenous autonyms. There are a few issues to be sorted out—mistakes, oversights, and at least one case of providing too much information—but hopefully Carapella will work those kinks out and publish an updated edition in the future. Regardless, people across North America need to become much more aware of the diversity of indigenous peoples living on the continent, and they should know more of those peoples' names for themselves. These two maps for the Lower 48 and Canada are a wonderful way to make some progress toward that goal.

Comments