New maps to depict pre-colonial 'Turtle Island' Canada

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is teaming up with a number of Indigenous organizations to create new maps that strip modern political borders from the country and replace them with an Indigenous perspective of Canada.

Traditional Indigenous territories, trade routes, resources and more to be shown

The new maps will present an Indigenous, rather than colonial, perspective on Canadian geography. (British Museum/AP Photo)

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is teaming up with five First Nation, Métis and Inuit organizations to redraw the map of Canada. 

The new maps will be wiped clean of political lines, then rebuilt using Indigenous territories, trading routes, language groups, treaties, stories, art, resources, and other points of interest from the long Indigenous history of Canada. 

"We have...an overwriting of traditional land use when we draw our maps the way we do," says Ry Moran, president of the Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. 

"When we draw lines between provinces and between territories, we have to acknowledge that those lines are being drawn over other ways of seeing this landmass that we call Turtle Island," he says. 

"When we remember these other ways of seeing the world, it actually reveals a much more full and complete history of the territories we live in."

The National Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami, Indspire and National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation are collaborating with the RCGS on the new maps.

A giant floor map will be produced for schools, featuring multiple transparent overlays that can add new layers of context.

A 350-page atlas, teachers' guides, and interactive website are also part of the project.

'It's going to blow people's minds'

When the groups met in Banff to discuss what should be on the maps, one idea was to feature a border that doubled as a timeline of Indigenous art, starting in prehistory and stretching forward to the present. 

"Canada 150 is a little tiny blip in that timeline," says Karen Wright-Fraser, a community liaison officer with the Northwest Territories' Department of Education, Culture and Employment. 

"It's going to blow people's minds." 

Wright-Fraser says she has had a great deal of support from the Indigenous communities she has spoken with about the project.

"It's being told from us, from the Indigenous people. Not from a colonial perspective.... People are excited about that." 

For Moran, it's about all Canadians challenging themselves to rethink the way they see their country. 

"We celebrate 150 years this year – but that is in light of thousands upon thousands of years of Indigenous history in this country," he says.

There is no official timeline for completion yet, but the Indigenous groups are expecting to be involved in the process until the end.

About the Author

Jimmy Thomson

Reporter

Jimmy Thomson is a CBC videojournalist based in Yellowknife. He graduated from UBC's Graduate School of Journalism after earning a B.Sc. in biology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. You can find him on Twitter at @jwsthomson.