Tag Archives: nation: Sioux

Google Maps and the Relative Importance of Native American Reservations

As we live our lives increasingly in the digital realm, the sights, sounds, and moving images of the internet impact our conception of the world around us. Take, for example, the many online mapping services.  What began as simple tools to find driving directions have evolved into advanced applications that map multiple layers of data.

But who decides what we see? What features are considered sufficiently important to be included? And what information about our country do those design decisions make invisible?

Here’s the map of South Dakota provided by Google Maps. Notice that the many Indian reservations are unmarked and invisible.  If you scroll in, eventually the reservations appear. At the state level, though, they’re invisible.

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In contrast, Indian reservations do show up on Bing:

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Among the other map services, Yahoo! Maps and MapQuest do label Indian reservations while OpenStreetMap does not.

While these mapping tools certainly empower the individual, it is the designers and the developers behind them who hold the real power.  I can only speculate as to why Google Maps does not include reservations at the state level, but their decision impacts the way we understand (or don’t understand) the geographic and social reality of this country.

Stephen Bridenstine is pursuing a history masters degree at the University of British Columbia, where he studies popular attitudes and public memory concerning Indigenous peoples, the historic fur trade, and the natural environment. He blogs about non-Native America’s weird obsession with everything “Indian” at his blog Drawing on Indians, where this post originally appeared.

This post was updated to reflect 2014; it originally appeared on SocImages in 2011.

Whose History Do Monuments Tell?

Last week we featured a guest post by Stephen Bridenstine about the invisibility of Native American reservations on Google Maps, and how this affects our awareness of geographic and social realities. The flip side of ignoring some information about our country is what we do choose to draw attention to. Over a year ago, Charlotte C. sent in a photo of a sign she noticed in downtown Fall City, Washington, about 25 miles east of Seattle. The sign includes several milestones for the area. The first significant event worthy of note is the first time a White person laid eyes on nearby Snoqualmie Falls:

This reminded me of a photo I took of a monument near the Black Hills in South Dakota. The monument is for Anna (or Annie) Tallent, a woman who was a teacher and superintendent of schools for Pennington County. While the monument mentions she was a “teacher and author,” her major claim to fame appears to be that she was the “first White woman to enter the Black Hills”:

Text:

In Memory of Anna Donna Tallent

Teacher and Author

Born in New York State, April 12, 1827.  Died in Sturgis, S. Dakota, February 13, 1901.

The first White woman to enter the Black Hills, arriving in Custer City in December 1874.

This monument is erected by the Society of Black Hills Pioneers and many admirers.

“The world is better because she lived and served in it.”

The monument to her achievements fails to note that in 1874, when she entered the Black Hills, the region was part of the Great Sioux Reservation and were not legally available to Whites for settlement. The U.S. Cavalry removed her entire party for setting up an illegal gold mining encampment on land that was clearly owned by the Sioux, according to an 1868 treaty with the U.S. government…a treaty the government quit honoring soon after Whites found out there was gold in the Black Hills, which the the federal government confiscated in 1877. Tallent discussed the illegal land invasions (including her expedition’s efforts to avoid detection by government officials) in her 1899 book The Black Hills, Or, The Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs, in which she laments the “mournful” state of the Sioux nation but rhetorically asks whether it’s appropriate to honor treaties that “arrest the advance of civilization” (p. 3) and, generally, presents a racist, condescending depiction of Native Americans as pathetic, sad “savages” whose displacement in the name of progress and civilization was inevitable.

So what story about our nation do these two monuments tell? The only information contained on the two-sided Fall City monument refers to the activities of Whites; the Native residents were important only when they lost land. For all intents and purposes, the history of the area started only once a White man had set eyes on it. Similarly, Tallent’s arrival in the Black Hills is memorable largely because she was a White woman, whose presence is by definition worthy of note and celebration — imagine, a vulnerable White woman braving the wildness of the Dakota territory! The fact that she was an illegal prospector camping on land she didn’t own while in the pursuit of quick wealth is neither worth mentioning nor a cause to question whether she’s a laudable figure deserving of a monument. Thus, the effect of both of these monuments is to normalize colonization and illegal settlement, and present the arrival of Whites as the beginning of meaningful history.

The American War Against the Lakota


In this video, suggested by Dmitriy T.M., photographer Aaron Huey powerfully illustrates the history of the relationship between the U.S. and the Lakota of the Sioux Nation.   It includes the making and breaking of treaties, the use of the idea of private property to strip the Lakota of their land, the Battle of Wounded Knee, the stealing of the Black Hills, and the socio-economic (and related) disadvantages faced by the Lakota today.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Sioux Nation, Robin Hood… Whatever

Julie M. came across a bow and arrow set for sale at a Wholesale Sports store in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. The set is called the “Lil’ Sioux.” Notice any oddness about the description?

It’s the Lil’ Sioux…and also the “Sherwood Forester” set. What’s Sherwood Forest? Why, where Robin Hood and his Merry Men hung out. Because when you’re appropriating Native American cultures, you might as well conflate them with mythologized, and possibly entirely fictional, noble outlaws from another continent.

But given the popularity of “Native American” fashions these days, I guess it shows restraint that the kid isn’t wearing a feathered headdress.

UPDATE: In response to my comment about the kid not wearing a headdress, reader Jessica B. pointed out that a team of Italian researchers developed a robot that is capable of shooting a bow and arrow, and made sure to dress it appropriately: