Native Cartographer Creates Map of Pre-Contact Turtle Island
It took him 14 years and thousands of hours, but Aaron Carapella finally did it. He created a map that represents what Turtle Island looked like in 1490. It shows where roughly 590 Native nations were located and gives their indigenous names, instead of the names given by Europeans.
Being part Cherokee, or Aniyunwiyah, and having grown up in the city, he’s always sought more knowledge of Native history and culture.
“I would attend pow pows and scour through the items vendors had for sell [sic]. From time to time I would see maps of the traditional territories of our tribes, but thought they looked incomplete, and the names mostly inaccurate. I filed away the idea of one day creating a more authentic-looking one myself,” Carapella says on his website. “Years went by as I looked from time to time for a better map. One day I decided, ‘It’s time to make a REAL map of Native America, as WE see it.’ It started with four poster boards and a rough pencil drawing of the United States. Over the next 14 years I would create the Tribal Nations Map.”
The process of collecting the real names of tribes was a tedious one. He studied books, and called tribes individually.
“Some tribes, once contacted, wouldn’t know that information,” he told the Tulalip News. But the tribe always got back to him with someone who could tell him what he needed to know to continue his research.
This is why on his map, you’ll see Diné as well as Navajo, and Numinu as well as Comanche.
“There were tribes I had never even heard of,” he told the Navajo Times. “It blew me away, the diversity. Florida alone had 35 to 40 different tribes.”
Carapella thinks this is the first map of its kind.
“This is the first time I have seen this,” Clarenda Begay told the Navajo Times after seeing Carapella’s website. “What an informative map!”
And that’s precisely why he made it.
“You can get maps of what our reservations look like now,” he said. “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.”
On his map, he varies the size of the typeface to show the amount of land and population size of each tribe at the time. The map also shows historical images of Natives and their dwellings.
“I wanted to get away from the stereotypical images of Indians, with all the feathers,” he told the Navajo Times. “I wanted to show the diversity of our clothing, our homes.”
Carapella started this journey when he was 19, now at the age of 33 he feels this is his small way of giving back to his Native community and of educating the public about Native people.
“To be honest, in general in the United states, Americans are very ignorant about Native American history and the only time they deal with Native history or reality is when tribes have enough money to fight back against injustice happening to them. In my small way, making this map is to reinforce the true history of the injustice and the genocide that occurred,” he told Tulalip News.
Carapella speaks Cherokee and has a bachelor's in marketing. He's considering pursuing a master's in Native American history as well.
Maps can be ordered from Carapella’s website at aaron-carapella.squarespace.com and can be purchsed with just the indigenous names, just the given names, or both. They range in price from $89 to $199. Any profits from map sales will go to future map projects, including in-depth looks at tribes of California and Washington, and a map of the First Nations of Canada.