Our home on Native-Land.ca: website lets users explore Indigenous ancestral territories

A website attempting to outline the boundaries of Indigenous ancestral territories in North America, and the world over, could become a valuable educational resource, says its self-described "settler" web developer.

Self-described ‘settler’ wants to turn interactive territorial map into Indigenous-led learning tool

Vancouver based web freelancer Victor Temprano says his interactive mapping website Native-Land.ca is his 'dearest' project. (Native-Land.ca)

A website attempting to outline the boundaries of Indigenous ancestral territories in North America, and the world over, could become a valuable educational resource, says its self-described "settler" web developer.

Vancouver-based web freelancer Victor Temprano says his interactive mapping website Native-Land.ca is his "dearest" project. He's logged thousands of hours developing it, and says he's working to turn it into an Indigenous-led non-for-profit organization and educational tool. 

"The site wasn't built so Indigenous people know their territories better — they know them plenty well," said Temprano, who described himself as a settler in Canada.  

"A lot of settlers are not really aware of the situation with the land, and a lot of people are vaguely interested in it, but there aren't many resources to explore it. I'm really happy to see that it's becoming useful to Indigenous Peoples themselves."

The majority of North America is covered in overlapping Indigenous territories on the website. (Native-Land.ca)

A complex, diverse history

The site, which Temprano set up in 2015, allows users to browse a global map or search by a zip or postal code and see colourful representations of the First Nations, Inuit or Métis territories any given location is within. 

"It's not like you're going to look at a place and see just one nation," said Temprano. 

"They overlap. [The map] is busy, and it helps give you a sense of the complexity and diversity of the land's history." 

The site also includes a teacher's guide, a blog that chronicles its development, and information about contributors and sources.

Land acknowledgements are becoming more commonplace at events where officials address the public. The federal government currently does not have any significant resources outlining ancestral Indigenous territories. A spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs said requests to Indigenous communities about territory acknowledgements is done on a case-by-case basis. 

Native-Land.ca is sourced in part from historical maps of Canada, like this map of Fort William First Nation from 1915. (Library and Archives Canada)

Temprano said the idea came from his own interest in understanding Canada's history and the delicate theories behind land ownership. He said knowing his place in the matter has been important to him throughout the site's development. 

"[The site] can be a little threatening to settler identity at times, because it has to do with who owns the land, and the history of colonialism," he said. 

"I made it as an attempt to just plant a few seeds in different people's minds. The idea would be to lead people gently into having historical consciousness. Maybe that can lead to awareness in other parts of their lives." 

Delicate research

Temprano said he takes his research seriously. If he's not able to find information about the territories from the nations themselves, he tries to find as many sources as possible to confirm the general outline of a given territory. 

Historical maps will provide some general outlines, but he looks for studies related to reserve lands, too, usually as part of a government's desire to access the land, Temprano said. 

He also receives a lot of contributions from community members, educators and geographers. He said in one case, someone just sent him 20 years worth of research and said "here you go — use it." 

"I have to be very careful. I'd never want the site to cause harm to a nation's identity," said Temprano.  

The site is funded and operated by Temprano himself, he said, though he's recently acquired some help to handle social media outreach. There are no ads, and no revenue being generated from the site, which he said is important for the public to understand. 

It may serve as an example of what Temprano can accomplish as a web developer, indirectly offering him opportunities for more work, but for now, it's just a passion project, he said. 

"It's basically just me," said Temprano. "But I'm working on that." 

Indigenous-led future

He's in the early stages of turning the project into an Indigenous-led non-profit operation. More and more, he's seen the site being used by Indigenous users, sharing it with their networks because their territories aren't seen on many contemporary maps. He said putting the resource in the hands of those whom it stands to represent is crucial.

"There are a lot of complex questions that come with the site growing. You start touching on questions of indigeneity — who counts as Indigenous, who should be included on the map, who shouldn't be," said Temprano. 

"I'm doing it because it could positively impact people's lives. I'm not necessarily saying we need to act this way about land, or this person owns it. That's complicated. It's not my place to comment on that. The most important thing to me is when I hear people talk about taking it home and sharing it with their parents, their grandparents. That's super cool."

About the Author

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a Wolastoqew video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.