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

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The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico

Culture

The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico

Tyrone Turner / Getty Images

Latinos make up the largest minority group in the country, yet our history is so frequently left out of classrooms. From Chicano communities in Texas and California to Latinos in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Underground Railroad – which also had a route into Mexico – Latinos have helped shape and advance this country.

And as the U.S. is undergoing a racial reckoning around policing and systemic racism, Mexico’s route of the Underground Railroad is getting renewed attention – particularly because Mexico (for the very first time in history) has counted its Afro-Mexican population as its own category in this year’s census.

The Underground Railroad also ran south into Mexico and it’s getting renewed attention.

Most of us are familiar with stories of the Underground Railroad. It was a network of clandestine routes and safe houses established in the U.S. during the early to mid-19th century. It was used by enslaved African Americans to escape into free states and Canada. It grew steadily until the Civil War began, and by one estimate it was used by more than 100,000 enslaved people to escape bondage.

In a story reported on by the Associated Press, there is renewed interest in another route on the Underground Railroad, one that went south into Mexico. Bacha-Garza, a historian, dug into oral family histories and heard an unexpected story: ranches served as a stop on the Underground Railroad to Mexico. Across Texas and parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, scholars and preservation advocates are working to piece together the story of a largely forgotten part of American history: a network that helped thousands of Black slaves escape to Mexico.

According to Maria Hammack, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin studying the passage of escapees who crossed the borderlands for sanctuary in Mexico, about 5,000 to 10,000 people broke free from bondage into the southern country. Currently, no reliable figures currently exist detailing how many left to Mexico, unlike the more prominent transit into Canada’s safe haven.

Mexico abolished slavery a generation before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Thirty-four years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, in 1829, Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, who was of mixed background, including African heritage, abolished slavery in the country. The measure freed an estimated 200,000 enslaved Africans Spain forcefully brought over into what was then called New Spain and would later open a pathway for Blacks seeking freedom in the Southern U.S.

And he did so while Texas was still part of the country, in part prompting white, slave-holding immigrants to fight for independence in the Texas Revolution. Once they formed the Republic of Texas in 1836, they made slavery legal again, and it continued to be legal when Texas joined the U.S. as a state in 1845.

With the north’s popular underground railroad out of reach for many on the southern margins, Mexico was a more plausible route to freedom for these men and women.

Just like with the northern route, helping people along the route was dangerous and could land you in serious trouble.

Credit: Library of Congress / Public Domain

Much like on the railway’s northern route into Canada, anyone caught helping African-Americans fleeing slavery faced serious and severe consequences.

Slaveholders were aware that people were escaping south, and attempted to get Mexico to sign a fugitive slave treaty that would, like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that demanded free states to return escapees, require Mexico to deliver those who had left. Mexico, however, refused to sign, contending that all enslaved people were free once they reached Mexican soil. Despite this, Hammock said that some Texans hired what was called “slave catchers” or “slave hunters” to illegally cross into the country, where they had no jurisdiction, to kidnap escapees.

“The organization that we know today as the Texas Rangers was born out of an organization of men that were slave hunters,” Hammack, who is currently researching how often these actions took place, told the AP. “They were bounty hunters trying to retrieve enslaved property that crossed the Rio Grande for slave owners and would get paid according to how far into Mexico the slaves were found.”

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Peru’s Indigenous Are Turning To Ancestral Medicines To Fight The Coronavirus

Culture

Peru’s Indigenous Are Turning To Ancestral Medicines To Fight The Coronavirus

Joao Laet / Getty Images

With news headlines like “How Covid-19 could destroy indigenous communities”, it’s hard to understate the affect that the Coronavirus has had on Indigenous communities across the world.

Even before the pandemic hit, native populations were already at increased risk of health complications, poor access to medical care, lack of proper education, and even premature death. The pandemic has only exacerbated these issues as government programs and NGOs who delivered aid to far flung communities have grind to a halt.

However, many communities have started taking the matter into their own hands by creating their own impromptu healthcare systems based on ancestral techniques and others have barricaded off their villages from the outside world in an effort to stem the flow of the virus.

In Peru, many Indigenous communities are turning to centuries-old medicines to fight back against the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on Peru – the country with the world’s highest per capita Covid-19 mortality rate. At particular risk is the nation’s large Indigenous community, who often lack proper access to education efforts and medical care. This has forced many Indigenous groups to find their own remedies.

In the Ucayali region, government rapid response teams deployed to a handful of Indigenous communities have found infection rates as high as 80% through antibody testing. Food and medicine donations have reached only a fraction of the population. Many say the only state presence they have seen is from a group responsible for collecting bodies of the dead.

At least one community, the Indigenous Shipibo from Peru’s Amazon region, have decided to rely on the wisdom of their ancestors. With hospitals far away, doctors stretch too thin and a lack of beds, many have accepted the alternative medicine.

In a report by the Associated Press, one villager, Mery Fasabi, speaks about gathering herbs, steeping them in boiling water and instructing her loved ones to breathe in the vapors. She also makes syrups of onion and ginger to help clear congested airways.

“We had knowledge about these plants, but we didn’t know if they’d really help treat COVID,” the teacher told the AP. “With the pandemic we are discovering new things.”

One of the plants the Shipibo are using is known locally as ‘matico.’ The plant has green leaves and brightly colored flowers. And although Fasabi admits that these ancestral remedies are by no means a cure, the holistic approach is proving successful. She says that “We are giving tranquility to our patients,” through words of encouragement and physical touch.

Even before the Coronavirus, Indigenous communities were at a greater risk for infectious diseases.

Indigenous peoples around the globe tend to be at higher risk from emerging infectious diseases compared to other populations. During the H1N1 pandemic in Canada in 2009, for example, aboriginal Canadians made up 16% of admissions to hospital, despite making up 3.4% of the population.

Covid-19 is no exception. In the US, one in every 2,300 indigenous Americans has died, compared to one in 3,600 white Americans.

Indigenous groups are particularly vulnerable to dying from Covid-19 because they often live days away from professional medical help. As of July 28, the disease had killed 1,108 indigenous people and there had been 27,517 recorded cases, with the majority in Brazil, according to data published by Red Eclesial Panamazonia (Repam).

Some communities are turning inward to survive COVID-19, barricading villages and growing their own food.

Despite the immense threat they face, Indigenous communities are fighting back.

“I am amazed to see the ways that indigenous peoples are stepping up to provide support where governments have not,” Tauli-Corpuz, a teacher at Mexico’s UNAM, told The Conversation. “They are providing PPE and sanitation, making their own masks, and ensuring that information on Covid-19 is available in local languages, and are distributing food and other necessities.”

They are also choosing to isolate. In Ecuador’s Siekopai nation, about 45 Indigenous elders, adults and children traveled deep into the forest to their ancestral heartland of Lagartococha to escape exposure to the Coronavirus, says the nation’s president Justino Piaguaje.

Despite their best efforts, many experts are extremely concerned for the survival of many Indigenous communities.

Credit: Ginebra Peña / Amazonian Alliance

They are already facing the ‘tipping point’ of ecological collapse due to increased threats of deforestation, fires, industrial extraction, agribusiness expansion and climate change,” Amazon Watch executive director Leila Salazar-Lopez told UNESCO of Amazonian Indigenous groups.

“Now, the pandemic has created one more crisis, and as each day passes, the risk of ethnocide becomes more real.”

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