Artist and activist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith recreates the map of the United States, luring us in with its instantly recognizable shape, only to challenge our preconceptions. Painted in washes of primary colors, deep greens, and soft pinks, Tribal Map recalls the vibrant maps of the United States that hang in elementary school classrooms. Only here, the borders drip and bleed together, suggesting a melting of boundaries. And instead of familiar state names, we see the names of living Indigenous communities—some appear in their homelands, others over the regions where they were forced to migrate. The very title of the work urges viewers to acknowledge the peoples whose histories on this land extend to time immemorial. At the edges of the US, black borders are partially obscured by drips of brown paint and the names of Indigenous communities that spread across national boundaries. The word Wampanoag is collaged over the state of Massachusetts, indicating the people who originally lived here—and continue to do so—rather than referring to the current geographic boundaries. In Wôpanâak (the Wampanoag language), Mâsach8sut means “place of the big hill,” potentially referring to the Blue Hills. Massachusetts is one of many Algonquian words found throughout New England on town placards, street signs, and maps.
Lately, informative maps like this one have become ubiquitous as people seek to visualize the geographic spread of COVID-19 across Turtle Island, also known as North America. Some of the virus hot spots directly overlap with the reservation lands identified on Tribal Map. The Navajo Nation in particular has had an extremely high rate of the disease despite responsive and ongoing public health measures. The coronavirus affects low-income communities and people of color most adversely, highlighting health inequities between Americans. This moment has shed light on the fact that some Indigenous nations lack even the most basic necessities to combat a pandemic, like running water and electricity. Yet it has also demonstrated the continued resilience and creativity of Native peoples. On Quick-to-See Smith’s Flathead reservation, the COVID-19 Youth Campaign has contracted musicians to write songs that spread awareness about the pandemic.
Many Indigenous communities have persevered through outbreaks, pandemics, and epidemics over time. As we imagine this country as a collective whole, rather than individual states, how might we map out a more equitable future with respect to racial, ethnic, and resource disparities? Has your perception of maps and other infographics changed in the time of COVID-19?