Native Cartography.


I have long coveted this map, but like many coveted things, it’s out of my budgetary reach. Aaron Carapella (Cherokee) is still making Indigenous based maps, the latest a pre-contact map of South America’s Indigenous peoples.

A new pre-contact map by Aaron Carapella promises to be the most comprehensive snapshot of South America’s Indigenous Peoples.

Carapella, the 36-year-old architect behind a growing collection of Tribal Nations maps, in October released a map depicting 720 tribes of South America in their original locations and identified by their traditional names. Where possible, the rising cartographer also included historic photos of people or places.

“I focused on traditional homelands, or where the tribes were when the Portuguese or English or French came and took over,” Carapella said. “I tried to put the tribes where they were before they were shifted around and merged with other tribes, and I used their traditional names—the names they called themselves before European contact.”

The latest installment marks completion of Carapella’s plan to map the entire western hemisphere, a project that started about two decades ago. Carapella, who is of Cherokee descent, was a teenager exploring his own heritage in Oklahoma and wanted a map of tribes that he could hang on his bedroom wall.

When he couldn’t find anything comprehensive, he decided to make his own. He spent 14 years and visited 250 tribal communities as he researched and created his first Tribal Nations map. Released in 2012, the map depicts traditional names and locations of 590 tribes in the United States.

From there, Carapella expanded beyond the “artificial borders” and mapped Canada, Alaska, Mexico and Central America. He also offers a map of the entire North American continent identifying more than 1,000 tribes and absent any lines drawn between states or countries.

His map of South America also shows tribal nations without political borders. From the Wayuu on the northern tip of the continent to the Manek’enk on the bottom of Cape Horn, Carapella mapped as many tribes as he could in their original locations.

That, in itself, proved more difficult than Carapella imagined. Some tribes have lived on the same land since time immemorial while others were relocated, confined to reservations or combined with other tribes.

“It’s hard to find a map or anything that pinpoints where these people were actually from,” Carapella said. “The Europeans didn’t stop to make maps of where people were. That wasn’t their goal.”


You can read and see more here. You can read about Aaron’s first map, the 1490 Turtle Island, here. Aaron’s website:


  1. rq says

    This is an amazing, mindblowing amount of work, dedication and love.
    I would love to own one of these, too. And a South American one, as well, just to point out the sheer number of nations living on these ‘homogeneous’ continents. Ha! This is fantastic to visualize.

  2. says

    Cubist, yes, I want the actual, physical maps. If I ever finish the piece I’m working on now, it will give me the money to indulge in things like this.

  3. blf says

    WMDKitty@5, Whilst perhaps not so much in the Pacific Northwest, elsewhere in the Americas, the “weird” names can also be Englishized variants of (borrowings from) French or Spanish bastardizations of the First Nations’s names (maybe also Russian in your area, albeit I cannot think of any such examples off-hand). And I assume that in Brasil(especially), you can find Portuguese bastardizations (and thence some Englishizations?).

    Having said that, I vaguely recall reading someplace that the British tended to be more likely than the French(at least) to adopt / bastardize the First Nations’s names. But I could easily be mistaken, albeit English is known as a “borrowing language” (in linguistic terms); amusingly, the language it has probably borrowed the most from is French, and among the least is German (despite being a Germanic language).

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