Giant Indigenous Peoples Atlas floor map will change the way you see Canada

A giant floor map, and the accompanying Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada are changing the way kids — and adults — look at Canada. It was created by Canadian Geographic.
Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild sits on the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada floor map, which is the size of a gymnasium. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Originally published on Jan. 20, 2019.

Canadian Geographic has created a giant floor map, and an accompanying Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, to change the way kids — and adults — look at this country.

"We hear so much about truth and reconciliation and what does it mean in reconciling our understanding and knowledge," said Charlene Bearhead, an education advisor for the map and the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada.

Charlene Bearhead is the education advisor for the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

"We expect people to be able to shift their mindset and to open their minds and to understand … who were the original peoples of these [lands] and what were the original names."

She said this map will help Canadians do just that.

The map does not contain provincial boundaries, names of provinces, or many of the current names of cities and towns. Instead, it outlines the different Indigenous communities found across the country, the languages spoken, and the treaties signed with the Crown.

Treaty 1 as found on the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Also highlighted on the map is how Indigenous communities and nations often overlap in certain areas of Canada.

"People have the misconception that treaties came from Europeans, and we know that Indigenous people long before European contact were sophisticated, and negotiated … how that land would be used," said Bearhead.

In touring with the map, Bearhead said she has seen a few different reactions to it.

"For the most part Indigenous people walk on the map and it makes sense and they are like, 'I know where this is, I know the story of this place for my people,'" said Bearhead.

"Non-Indigenous people walk onto the map and have this blank look on their faces," a reaction Bearhead recognizes once they realize there are no provincial boundaries drawn on the map.

After a bit of confusion, Bearhead said what often follows are lengthy discussions of Indigenous histories and experiences.

Rosanna Deerchild finds her community, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin, or South Indian Lake on the map. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

For some Indigenous people, seeing this map can stir up surprising responses.

"People that are members of the Michel Band [in Alberta] come to the map and it's so emotional because the Michel Band has never been shown on a map before," said Bearhead, who notes that the Michel Band dissolved in 1958.

Bearhead also recalled how happy Cree students from Northern Québec were after seeing the map for the first time. 

"The kids said, 'my home's on here, this is where I live.' I think it instills some pride and some hope with Indigenous people," said Bearhead.

Rosanna Deerchild and Charlene Bearhead explore the giant floor map which accompanies the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)