Maps of the Past

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Aaron Carapella creates maps showing the locations of indigenous peoples prior to European colonization. Photo by Brandon Scott.
Aaron Carapella creates maps showing the locations of indigenous peoples prior to European colonization. Photo by Brandon Scott.

While most cartographers today map our ever-changing world, Aaron Carapella maps history to change perspectives.

He searches for the truth of American Indian tribes, carefully placing their original names on a borderless map to identify lands each called home before European settlers arrived. “This was a pivotal moment in my life,” he says. 

“I learned from this experience that hands-on activism is appropriate at times, but I also believe that introducing curriculum to the educational system is also part of the puzzle.”

“They are living maps, which means they are not set in a static year,” says Carapella. “I wanted these maps to convey what lands were held by whom at the time of contact with outsiders to show which lands each tribe fought to maintain and which ones many of them lost or were moved off of.”

Though he now lives in Stigler, Okla., Carapella’s map-making inspiration came during his childhood spent in California.

“I looked for a map of tribes to put in my room, but only came across ones that had a few dozen tribes on them,” says Carapella, who is of Cherokee descent, but is not enrolled with a tribe. “I already knew at that time that there were hundreds of tribes because I spent most of my free time reading books on Native American history.”

At age 18, he joined the American Indian Movement. As he worked to remove offensive mascots from local schools and protect sacred areas, Carapella says he unearthed a lack of understanding by many Americans.

“This was a pivotal moment in my life,” he says. “I learned from this experience that hands-on activism is appropriate at times, but I also believe that introducing curriculum to the educational system is also part of the puzzle.”

So, for the next 14 years, he intermittently worked on his first tribal map, looking for information wherever his travels took him – includ