Displaying indigenous lands and land history on iNat

Something I would like to see is a change to the map to prominently display who the original indigenous owners were of the land on the spot an observation was made. Something that cannot be hidden in the UI. This would be for observations made in colonial countries like the USA, Australia, New Zealand, etc. That’s a tiny change that can be done with just the extra time/$$ it takes a designer to get it mocked up and a programmer to implement it.

This is something I will begin doing verbally for every native plant walk I lead once Covid-19 is a memory and I’m able to resume leading groups around Arkansas to learn about native plants.


i personally think it would be inappropriate to have that kind of map built into iNaturalist, but if you want to make such a map, there’s nothing that prevents you from building one via the iNat API. i can tell you exactly how to build one (https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/looking-for-inaturalist-observation-map-visualisation-suggestions/7322/10), but you will need to find or create the maps that show who “the original owners” were. (i use quotes because consider all the folks who have lived in, say, the area of modern day Mexico City over time, even prior to the arrival of Europeans.)


So the point is not how I can improve BIPOC (Indigenous in this case) visibility on iNaturalist, but how iNaturalist can. Would love hearing why you think it’s inappropriate for this to be a feature built into iNaturalist.

tell me who you think the “original owners” of the Mexico City area are.


For the purposes of my feature request, which is to make the colonizers of a land aware of who they took the land from, it would be the indigenous group who controlled the land at the time of European conquest, but I honestly don’t understand your motive here for pushing back and as such I’m highly suspicious of that motive.

there’s not a trick here. i’m just saying history is not black and white. did you “take the land” from a race, an alliance of tribes, a king? or is the concept of ownership of land a “white man” concept anyway? i bet a large portion of iNat folks would tell you that man is but one organism in the landscape anyway.

so as i noted before, it seems inappropriate in iNat, but if you want to make a map, i can tell you how to do it.


But it’s very hard to do so, you’ll need several maps for different timings, in the end there will be thousands of layers because each year there will be different situation in different parts of the world, and I believe for many communities it will be impossible to say where were the borders (if there were) and how far back in time should we go? For me there’s a part of the land that “belonged” to Ingrians, but they were far from being the first to live there and surely there were many unnamed tribes that lived at the river but had no towns and we can’t know how they called themselves, wouldn’t it be a disregard to mention only one community? Though I like the idea itself I don’t see an easy way to do it.


pisum - I think eric_hunt is talking about rethinking things for greater inclusion of BIPOC, and it sounds like you’re eliminated an interesting idea. Yes, there will always be issues of mapping - even with modern Google maps. How do you draw the China-India-Pakistan border, for example. The question is, who gets to decide? And who decides who decides? Is it you? Do you decide?

So Australia has an “instance” of iNaturalist. I think it’s a fantastic idea to have the indigenous map for Australia (a great example of a unique local configuration). We’ve had many talks with AIATSIS here and I’d be happy to help with that. Have always wanted to add to our system as well, so a win-win. And pisum, I’ve had a look at your post about maps - really interesting and helpful. Thanks for that (but of course QG is banned from the API :-) ).

the maps endpoints are not authenticated. you can make maps all day. really, i think you should get your data from GBIF though, since you’ll want to include more than iNat data.


My intention was not to honor every past caretaker of a spot of land, but to make it more clear to white people who was owner/caretaker of the at the time of European colonization. Right now most people have little to no awareness that they land they now occupy was once controlled by an indigenous group. Getting that more visible is the goal and so far the objections I’ve heard are not insurmountable.


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?

1 Like

:+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?