Things That Matter

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

For all the (let’s be absolutely honest here!) banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place. This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. Digital media allows us to visualize things that are already there, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Through location, the Native Land app lets you unearth the indigenous heritage of a place.

Credit: Native Land

The app was developed in Canada, a country which was a complex network of indigenous groups before French and British colonial powers redrew the map. The app can be accessed both through mobile devices (it works on iOS and Android) and through a browser based map. It includes key information such as a group’s language, name and whether the land was ceded (most likely by force or through a deceptive deal) through a treaty. It is a work in progress, so bear with the developers please!

They state before you even start looking for the indigenous past of a territory based on your postcode: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”. So if you have information that the developers could use to make the app more precise, they are more than open to new findings that could make this collaborative tool a more accurate representation of the indigenous imprint on a place. Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set on stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken. Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify just three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set on stone, and that unless you have indigenous heritage we are all guests. California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been indigenous. 

And this map of Australia is just nuts! Can you believe that colonial settlers have tried to make this country fully white and monolingual in the past?

Credit: Native Land

Australia is a young country that nevertheless has faced racism due to the aires de grandeza of some colonial settlers. Even though there has been a formal apology from the government towards aboriginal Australians, and there are constant acknowledgements to the fact that the land was never ceded, there remain great challenges to make the country truly inclusive for those who owned and thrived in the land in the first place. Just looking at this map makes you think of the wide variety of languages and traditions that existed in the island before the Dutch and English arrived

An Ancient Mayan Book That Was Discovered By Archeologist Is Being Called The Oldest Book In The Americas

Culture

An Ancient Mayan Book That Was Discovered By Archeologist Is Being Called The Oldest Book In The Americas

hyperallergic / Instagram

Something pretty exciting is happening in Mexico. Yes, the Popocatépetl is erupting again. All of that volcanic activity is ejecting new life into the old world of Aztec and Mayan civilization. As you may recall, archeologists recently discovered a thousand-year-old Mayan palace located 63 miles west Cancún in Yucatán, Mexico. Before that, the  National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) also found hundreds of archaeological artifacts nearby the Yucatán that, as experts put it, contain “invaluable information related to the formation and fall of the ancient City of Water Sorcerers, and who were the founders of this iconic site.” This year a new study confirmed that a gold bar found in 1981 in a Mexico City park was part of the Aztec treasure that was stolen by Hernan Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors 500 years ago. It feels like our ancestors are trying to tell us something. 

After decades of research, experts concluded in 2016 that a book they found years ago, in fact, is a 900-year-old authentic astronomy guide from the Mayan period. The book is called the Grolier Codex, and archaeologists say this is the oldest book found in the Americas.

Credit: hyperallergic / Instagram

One of the reasons the authenticity was always questioned is due to the backstory of how the book was found in the first place. According to ArsTechnica, the Grolier Codex was found by a Mexican collector named Josué Sáenz in 1966. Sáenz said that “a group of unknown men offered to sell the book to him, along with a few other items found “in a dry cave” near the foothills of the Sierra de Chiapas.” 

What made this book even more fascinating, yet troubling, was that Sáenz said the men told him if he took the book, he wouldn’t be able to show it to anyone. Others then told Sáenz that the book was a fake, but did allow archaeologist Michael Coe to show the book in New York. He later would give the book to the Mexican government.

The 10-page book is said to be an insightful guide into astronomy and how the Mayans kept track of the sun and the planets. It was their early forms of calendar-keeping.

Credit: kushkatan / Instagram

ArsTechnica said the book was written during trying times — the late Mayan period. Brown University social scientist Stephen Houston described how each picture in the book offered critical information that Mayans needed for day-to-day duties. 

The images are of “workaday gods, deities who must be invoked for the simplest of life’s needs: sun, death, K’awiil—a lordly patron and personified lightning—even as they carry out the demands of the ‘star’ we call Venus. [The Dresden and Madrid Codices] both elucidate a wide range of Maya gods, but in Grolier, all is stripped down to fundamentals,” Houston said. 

What’s also fascinating about the timing of the book’s confirmation is that Michael Coe, the Yale anthropologist, who decoded the text, died last year at the age of 90.

Credit: kushkatan / Instagram

The New York Times wrote in his obit that Coe was instrumental at deciphering Mayan code and giving the Mayans credit for their work when many wrote off the images as just that. 

In “Breaking the Maya Code” (1992), he theorized that anthropologists had never given the Maya adequate credit for their linguistic advances because of what he called ‘quasi-racism,’ or an ‘unwillingness to grant the brown-skinned Maya a culture as complex as that of Europe, China or the Near East.'”

As we previously noted, a more recent discovery was made just this week. A gold bar that was found in a park in Mexico City in 1981 was finally determined to be an authentic Aztec treasure.

Credit: National Institute of Anthropology and History

It’s quite fascinating to see that just because artifacts are found, doesn’t necessarily mean they can be authenticated by archeologists with a snap of a finger. Their research takes years, sometimes decades. 

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said they used special equipment to research the gold bar including an X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) which is “a proven multi-elemental technique of high sensitivity, non-destructive, non-invasive and extremely fast.” 

With so many recent discoveries, we can only imagine what other types of treasures are still buried underneath the ancient lands of Mexico.

READ: Mexico’s Popocatépetl Volcano Erupted And Now People Think The World Is Coming To An End

See The Stunning Portraits This Photographer Took Of People From The Most Endangered Indigenous Tribes In The World

Culture

See The Stunning Portraits This Photographer Took Of People From The Most Endangered Indigenous Tribes In The World

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

We’ve come to a moment in our culture where we’re reckoning with the mistakes our ancestors made in the past. The fallout from widely-accepted historical practices of misogyny, racism, and colonialism is persistent. It’s up to people in positions of power to use their privilege to better society. Colonialism, in particular, has an especially negative lingering global impact–largely because it has been so insidious. Only recently have colonists like Christopher Columbus been widely condemned for the violent and inhumane methods they employed to conquer and oppress indigenous peoples.

English photographer Jimmy Nelson has spent his entire career travelling the world and documenting the unique lifestyles of various indigenous tribes across the globe. In his book “Homage to Humanity”, he compiles his photographs in a vibrant and informative tome that shows its reader the commonalities among all of us.

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Throughout his 30-year career, Nelson traveled to countless countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Thailand, Mexico, Sudan, China and Papua New Guinea.

While travelling, Nelson had the opportunity to take portrait photographs of people from indigenous ethnic tribes throughout Latinidad, like the Oaxaca, the Zapotecs, and the Chichimeca. The portraits are stunning for their detailed and tender depictions of various cultures in full ceremonial garb, the beauty of their unique traditions on proud display for the camera.

One photograph shows a woman from the Zapotec tribe in Mexico, her face painted as the “Lady of the Dead”. Another shows a young girl from the the last Inca community in Peru, the Q’eros tribe, wrapped in K’eperina blanket, staring defiantly at the camera. “[My job] is about being open to the world,” says Nelson. “With no judgement, no basis and nothing but love for other places and other human beings”.

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Nelson’s life goal is to document the lives of indigenous tribes throughout the world before their ways are permanently eradicated through modernization.

Indigenous peoples are defined as “ethnic groups who are the original or earliest known inhabitants of an area,” before the land has been “settled, occupied or colonized” by other inhabitants. Indigenous tribes are rare because of how pervasive and all-consuming colonialism has been in recent history–particularly in North and South America. Philosophies like “manifest destiny” convinced (largely white) populations that it was their duty and right to settle lands that native populations had been living on for centuries.

According to worldbank.org, there are 370 million indigenous peoples living in over 90 countries throughout the world. And although they only make up 5 percent of the global population, their numbers account for 15 percent of those living in extreme poverty. Not only that, but due to the wealth of generational knowledge they have about how to tend to their lands, indigenous peoples are estimated to safeguard 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity.

Luckily, in 2007, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, a guide for its members on the collective rights of indigenous peoples

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

According to the United Nations, the UNDRIP “emphasizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations”. The declaration was a necessary step in righting the wrongs of the colonizing forces of the past who believed that Western and European ideals were superior to the ways of native populations.

In an interview with The New York Post, Nelson describes how spending time with people who are not as deeply exposed to the hustle and bustle of modernization has changed his outlook on life. “We’re always thinking about the future.” he said. “But [these tribes] very much live in the present and in the moment, it’s wonderful.”

via @jimmy.nelson.official/Instagram

Nelson hopes that his book of photographs will humanize the people of indigenous tribes so that his readers recognize that they are no different from the rest of the world.

Nelson’s photos are not only featured in a book, but also digitally in the form of his “Jimmy Nelson” app. Readers can use the app to scan over every image in his “Homage to Humanity” book, which will give the reader access to exclusive behind-the-scenes content that includes interviews and short videos. He hopes this feature will give viewers an insight into his process behind creating his artwork. You can see more of his artwork here.

As for the rest of the world it would be wise for everyone to take a page out of Nelson’s book when it comes to his views on humanity. The photographer is passionate about connecting with humans from all colors, creeds, and walks of life. “I think it’s amazing how close you can get to people without talking to them,” he says. “We speak different languages but that doesn’t seem to matter. We are all the same.” Never have there been truer words to live by.