February 19, 2011

Unidentified reservations in Google Maps

In his Drawing on Indians blog, Stephen Bridenstine notes a curious thing. Unlike other online mapping systems, Google Maps doesn't identify America's Indian reservations. It shows them as slightly darker areas, but it doesn't say what they are, no matter how much you magnify them.

Strange Tan Blotches in South Dakota: Indian Reservations in Online Maps

Consider the worst case: The Navajo Nation is bigger than West Virginia and nine other states. And it's full of empty places where a "Navajo Nation" label would fit on a map. But there's no such label in Google Maps.

Much smaller national forests and parks get labeled, so the problem isn't a lack of space or attention to detail. As I said, other mapping systems note the reservations, so it's not a technical impediment. No, someone at Google "inadvertently" or intentionally left the reservation labels off. I wouldn't be surprised if it was someone's conscious decision: "Don't label the reservations or the right-wing hate machine will vilify us for recognizing so-called Indian nations."

This is yet another example of how invisible Indians are today. Google is reinforcing the message that Indians are dead and gone. That reservations are nothing more than "colorful" places on a map. That semi-sovereign political entities, a fourth level of government, don't exist in our midst.

For more on the subject, see Stereotyping Indians by Omission and The Facts About Tribal Sovereignty.


Geometrics said...

In Canada we get labels on reservation townsites...

Anonymous said...

Google and indigenous rights. Urrgh...You wouldn't think Google would need to care, but during their time in China, they had to censor their search engine.

Rob said...

Update: The unidentified reservations are now gone altogether. Stephen Bridenstine reports on this development in his Drawing on Indians blog:


The Case of the Missing Indian Reservations

It was bad enough that these reservations were unlabeled in the first instance but to drop them altogether from Google Maps takes it to a whole new level. Someone, somewhere at Google Inc. had to make the decision to remove the reservations. I can only wonder about their reasoning--relevancy, visual clarity, just too much clutter?