Since time immemorial, trails have been an integral part of Aboriginal life and well-being, serving as routes of migration, trade, daily travel, connection and communication with neighboring communities – and today many of these ancient trails are part of National trail system, whose tracks stretch more than 89,000 miles through ancestral lands in the United States. Yet many trail names pay homage to European settlers and explorers who have traveled to these regions, and historical events after their arrival; and most mapping, including trail maps used by hikers, excludes Indigenous ancestral territories.
A diverse group of people and organizations are working to change that. Indigenous Lands, National Trails (NLNT), an Indigenous mapping and research project launched this month by the Partnership for the National Trails Network (PNTS), aims to provide a more inclusive perspective on how the paths we travel intersect with Indigenous heritage. NLNT, initiated by Carin L. Farley, National Scenic and Historic Trails Manager at Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a collaboration between the BLM, which provides the funding; the PNTS, the association in charge of the project; digital homeland, an Indigenous-led non-profit organization specializing in mapping Indigenous territories; And Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps (ALCC), a Legacy of conservation program that partners with tribal communities and engages indigenous youth to train a new generation of land stewards.
Farley tapped Kiana Etsate-Gashytewa, a graduate of Northern Arizona University’s Applied Native Studies and Political Science programs and an ALCC member Zuni And Hopi heritage, to lead the mapping project, and Autry Lomahongva (Hopi/Dinner) to design its logo.
“It was very clear that the national trails and federal agencies needed more knowledge about Indigenous communities, landscapes and resources,” says Etsate-Gashytewa. “You would think they would have had it already, because they have federal guidelines for tribal consultation with Indigenous nations. The new Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, an Indigenous woman from Laguna, implemented a policy for federal agencies within the DOI to advance collaboration and engagement with Indigenous communities, particularly within the BLM. On this, Carin (Farley) said: “The only basic thing we could use is a map to understand the ancestral territories on which people live, recreate and visit each time they go out or connect with nature. .”
The sequel that has just been launched resourcesincluding an interactive map, will be available to the public, partner trail organizations, and federal agencies, with the goal of promoting meaningful dialogue and collaboration between these communities.
A few tracks already show what this can look like: In 2020, the Arizona Trail Association consulted 13 tribes on news signage projects along the Arizona National Scenic Trail to include their perspective, stories and language for culturally significant places – an example in the resource guide that other trails are encouraged to follow.
“I hope any agency or nonprofit, on the trails or in general, is able to have strong connections to their Indigenous communities, where they can just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, we got need your thoughts and ideas on this,” and where the consultation isn’t big and scary,” says Etsate-Gashytewa. “It’s just the communication of people on how to take better care of the earth or whatever other project or endeavor they have in mind.”
It’s been long overdue. For centuries, maps have been used as colonization tool and erasure, to the detriment of indigenous communities whose knowledge is essential for effective land management and conservation. Putting cartography in their hands provides an opportunity for self-representation and the dismantling of colonial worldviews and narratives.