What stories can maps tell – if we let them?

Christine Luckasavitch

Cartographies are visual stories; representations of familial and nation territories, the locations of our portages, and seasonal living places. In looking at Omamiwininiaki (unceded Algonquin territory) through a series of maps, what might Indigenous understandings of land look like in practice? How do we step beyond theorizing to establishing meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities?

Maps have the power to change our understanding of place. If we deepen our understanding of place, and if we create, engage, and foster in good relationships with land and Indigenous peoples of that land—our perceptions and understandings can be altered. These relationships give us the ability to enter into reciprocal relationships with human and other-than-human beings. Those relationships can also help us to create maps that can be a tool to help us visualize a deeper understanding and appreciation for the stories of our territories. Further, maps can become a tool to change our shared history into one that creates a vibrant, safe, and intact future for our next generations.

Map of Algonquin National Park of Ontario

Map of Algonquin National Park of Ontario. Arthur Brown. 1925. Source/Current Location: http://www.markinthepark.com/downloads.html.

The creation of Algonquin Park as a conservation and wilderness space in 1893 led to direct and long-term impacts on Algonquin peoples.

Algonquin Park quickly became a wilderness icon—Ontario’s “Crown Jewel” park. Summer camps and fishing resorts, as well as continued resource extraction practices, were now all accessible by rail. But, looking at this map—what has become of Indigenous place names? What are the stories that lay beneath the colonial labels on this map?

Arowhon Pines Map (Summer)

Arowhon Pines Map (Summer). Chris Brackley. 2021. As The Crow Flies cARTography.

This map, one of a series of four divided by seasons, are a result of a 2021 collaboration between Waaseyaa Consulting and As The Crow Flies cARTography to develop a map for guests of Arowhon Pines in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. These maps highlight seasonal changes, heights of lands, waterways, and ecosystems. Most importantly, the labels on this map prioritize the knowledge that this land is Anishinaabeaki—Ancestral territory of Anishinaabeg people. This map challenges common-held perceptions of this land and its history, and gives space to Indigenous knowledge and understandings.

Omamiwinini (Algonquin) Territory Map

Omamiwinini (Algonquin) Territory Map. Native Land Digital. 2021. https://native-land.ca.

A screenshot from Native-Land.ca shows approximate territorial lines based on Indigenous understandings of land. The overlapping shapes demonstrate the complexities of Indigenous relationships with land and neighbouring nations. Algonquin territory (Omàmìwininìaki) is found in the center of the map.

Christine Luckasavitch is an Omàmìwininì Madaoueskarini Anishinaabekwe (a woman of the Madawaska River Algonquin people) and belongs to the Crane Clan. She is currently studying for her Masters of Arts in Indigenous Studies at Trent University.

Christine is the Owner/Executive Consultant of Waaseyaa Consulting and Waaseyaa Cultural Tours (@waaseyaaconsulting), two small businesses dedicated to dedicated to reviving and celebrating Indigenous traditional knowledge and culture-based practices through educational opportunities.

In addition to her own companies, Christine is the Executive Director of Native Land Digital, an Indigenous-led not-for-profit dedicated to providing educating about Indigenous peoples, territories and knowledge systems across the world.