National Congress of American Indians and Google Partner to Map Tribal Lands

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Since 2012, Google has been working with the National Congress of the American Indians (NCAI) to update Google Maps to accurately reflect the location and boundaries of American Indian reservations in the United States.

Google Maps now includes tribal lands on all basemaps. Image Credit: Google

Google Maps now includes tribal lands on all basemaps. Image Credit: Google

What if the place where you live, your home, wasn’t on a map? In a modern digital age, the idea might seem preposterous. The majority of us are carrying more complicated navigation systems in our pockets and purses than the devices that what once guided early spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere. But for some Native Americans living in the U.S., this hasn’t always been the case.

Since 2012, Google has been working with the National Congress of the American Indians (NCAI) to update Google Maps to accurately reflect the location and boundaries of American Indian reservations in the United States. The project was the result of a partnership between NCAI and Google Earth Outreach. The partnership was fostered by a group of Google employees who are part of Google’s American Indian Network (GAIN).

A specific search for a reservation produces easy-to-see, highlighted results. Image Credit: Google

A specific search for a reservation produces easy-to-see, highlighted results. Image Credit: Google

Brian Howard, legislative associate for NCAI, works on telecommunications issues. He sees mapping tribal lands as an important component of a community’s infrastructure that allows businesses to develop and enhances public safety.

The project took several years to complete.

Raleigh Seamster was the project lead for the Google Earth Outreach team. Seamster said the project’s main challenge was “ensuring that we chose a data set that was the authoritative data set. That was something we wanted to make sure we did right.”

To do this, the team relied on U.S. Census Bureau maps that incorporate all 566 federally recognized reservations. This information is now included in all of Google’s basemaps, and when a user searches for a specific reservation, it is clearly marked and outlined.

Census Bureau map of American Indian reservations in the U.S. Image Credit: US Census Bureau

Census Bureau map of American Indian reservations in the U.S. Image Credit: US Census Bureau

While the project’s focus was directed at updating the basemaps, communities also are encouraged to use Google Mapmaker to add important information about schools, health clinics and other key points within tribal lands. Globally, some indigenous communities have included cultural sites and detailed information about their community in order to garner support for preservation and protection of indigenous lands.

Since there are many private aspects of tribal cultures, Howard says it has been more of a community-based initiative. He said he thinks it’s important to leave it up to each community to determine what information to make public on the Internet.

In a statement, NCAI President Brian Cladoosby said, “ÏNCAI will continue to build partnerships with tech companies like Google to ensure the first American innovators remain on the front lines of 21st century innovation.”