Displaying indigenous lands and land history on iNat

I see it like now we have a GBIF layer and it would be cool to have a layer of that kind where we would be ble to decide which settings do we need, but I’m not sure if iNat has staff to do it, it sounds like a whole separate amazing project, maybe there’s already one that iNat would be able to integrate?

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:+1: - thanks pisum

i keep going back to Mexico City. if you look at how Hernan Cortes defeated the Aztec Empire, you’ll see that the way he did this was by pitting various indigenous tribes against the Empire. so was the Empire the “owner/caretaker” of the land? or were there other indigenous people who were the “owners/caretakers”? iNat really isn’t the place to hash this out.

having to have some set of modern-day boundaries is a necessary challenge, for which Google and GADM are better equipped to address, yes. it’s unnecessary for iNat to try to wade into historical politics at the level required for maps. but if someone wants to do that independently, that’s fine.


Here’s an example of a map I’ve seen that could maybe be used, but it is indeed very complicated: https://native-land.ca/


there’s a long history to the questagame thing. I shouldn’t have discussed that topic here as there’s another thread for it, plus a bunch of old ones, and it’s probably better to move the conversation there because it will derail this one fast.

In terms of indigenous land, I’d love to have that sort of map on iNat if there’s a way to do that, but is there a single map that would actually work? Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse and thus there is not only one answer but I think a lot of them do not have hard boundaries on their land the way colonial civilizations do. So you’d potentially have a lot of overlapping places, not that this is a problem. Ultimately the real approach would be to engage with all interested indigenous groups and let them inform us of the land extent, but that would be a huge task and might overwhelm iNat, plus plenty of indigenous people just don’t want to engage in the colonial culture we are all awash in, for very understandable reasons.


Moderation note: this was a substantial subthread of the original that seemed to warrant its own thread, so I’ve moved it here.


Just curious, is using terms like caretaker, owner, even occupant correct or currently accepted or is that also eurocentric? My understanding is that in some cultures, land possession was not considered (and that was taken advantage of), plus some cultures migrated. Not my area of study so I could be way off base.


An alternative to maps might be to use collection projects.

For example, the creation of one project that encompasses current reservations and other recognized land and then a second (umbrella?) project that includes all past lands. Users who post an observation that falls within either project could have the project icon and name show up on the observation page, drawing attention to the geographic heritage/land history of where they were.

These projects could also be used as a way to organize/promote bio-blitzes or other events by iNaturalist in coordination with indigenous groups by having a contact available to lead events, greet users on the site (“Thank you for showing an interest in the biodiversity of the Makah Reservation […]”), and more prominently display indigenous names for places and wildlife. If needed, these projects could also be used as a step in identifying culturally significant species that an indigenous group would like to see obscured on iNaturalist.


for modern day boundaries, there has been a feature request for that: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/include-indian-reservations-communities-rancherias-pueblos-as-places/10354, and think that these boundaries would need to be established with extra care and consultation.

if there’s serious consideration of trying to systematically establish historical boundaries, i would just suggest that the same kind of care be taken by whoever takes on this task, along with some thought in advance on how to handle slippery slope possibilities, like establishing pre-colonial land boundaries in Africa, etc. there may also need to be some extra place types established to classify these kinds of places appropriately (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/cultural-specific-place-types/10441).

for either of these kinds of places, if being created in the system, if the goal is to bridge audiences, it may also help to allow a place to have multiple names associated with it (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/add-additional-names-to-the-same-place/5480/), similar to the way taxon names work.


When was the European conquest of England? Would you map the original owners as the group that built Stonehenge and the invaders as the Celts who came after them? Or are the Celts the original owners and Romans the invaders? Or are the Anglo-Saxons that now dominate it the invaders?

And is this purely Eurocentric as if only their history matters, or would Asian races that colonized other Asian countries, or Middle Eastern movements that invaded and took over other Middle Eastern lands, and so on be highlighted as well?


Redrawing the maps back thru history would be a substantial research project. Archives. Oral history.

We can attempt to record names of species in all the available and relevant languages. That would be searchable and useful.

I was reading about ‘beating the bounds of the parish’ The children were taught in meticulous detail, this tree, that boulder, cross the stream. As adults they knew precisely where the boundary was.

And that’s only up to 1066!

I’ve been trying to understand this discussion from an English perspective. It’s interesting but, as you say, very complex, and without mass DNA screening it’s impossible to determine which of us has ancestry from which group. And I find it hard to see how it’s relevant to iNaturalist data at the observation level.

If I wanted to document, for example, the biodiversity of a village that was forcibly “deserted” to make way for sheep farming, I would create a place and a collection project for it. But unless there were detailed historical records of biodiversity and genealogy it wouldn’t be very useful.

I understand of course that this may be trivial when compared with the scale of injustice and oppression faced by whole indigenous/aboriginal peoples in colonised countries, but it’s the closest analogy I can relate to, and I’m struggling to see how it’s relevant to iNaturalist as a repository of observation data where location is simply an intersection of latitude and longitude (although that in itself is not a culturally neutral construct).


In conversations we’ve had with some tribes in California about using iNaturalist, I know some things they’re interested in to help foster more use of iNaturalist in their communities are working to get species common names in their languages (which some are already doing), and figuring out a way to automatically obscure culturally important species observed on their lands.


But a data repository is iNat’s secondary purpose.
It’s primary purpose is to engage people with nature, and from that perspective acknowledging that a culture’s lands exist as an official iNat “place” that projects can be attached to (or just as symbolic acknowledgement that other cultures’ names and definitions for lands still exist) is a valid goal.


What would be the point? Geographical location of species is in no way dependent on current or traditional “owners” of the land in question. How does displaying or even collecting this information add anything to the biological science that iNaturalist (I hope) exists to collect?


… which is not a good thing. Quality of data, you know science, is what matters. Plants grow and insects flutter where they find the habitat they need and not in any way moderated by who happens to live on the land. Ethnicity is a totally different set of facts and irrelevant (not less important, but irrelevant) when we are talking about biosciences.

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There are other repositories for data that have more rigor in the data collection, the submissions, and in who can submit.

iNat was not created for that purpose.
That doesn’t make it a valueless purpose.


It does depend on the previous usage of land.

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What do surviving Native people say? And might this have an unintended adverse effect – I am thinking of the tendency of curious white folk to want to visit Native communities, but not necessarily in a culturally appropriate way. Would it lead, for example, to more trespassing on Native lands?


That is the important question. :)

It definitely could, but it also already has negative effects to not acknowledge them as well, - see the #MirandaMustGo movement, and how people visiting Hanging Rock as a mystery/horror site allows them to ignore both its traditional meaning to indigenous populations and how the popular fictional narrative ascribed to the place by the book and film eclipses the history of aboriginal peoples at that location.