Mapping Our Stories

Raven E. Marshall, EcoNews Intern

Maps are spatial representations of our world. America, so they say, was named after an Italian mapmaker Amerigo Vespucci. But these seemingly innocuous acts of ascribing space are not as harmless as they may seem.

Story mapping is a form of mapmaking represented through the collection of information and stories. This exercise helps bring stories to life visually, inspiring us to foster a greater connection to our area. 

Historically speaking, maps have also been used as instruments of colonialism, aiding in the theft of land from Indigenous Peoples. Despite these origins and what we commonly understand as conventional maps, they can be used today in many contexts and are used to depict relationships between a subject and a place. For instance, they can show relationships of rivers to oceans, bird migrations to Earth’s magnetic fields and people to place. By using maps to connect ourselves to places, we can unearth new insights into our own stories, and expand our relationship with the land and people with whom we share a place to call home.

We begin by understanding colonialism as an ongoing process of genocide and total dominion through displacement, dispossession, and erasure of Indigenous People from their land.

Colonialism has directly and indirectly shaped landscapes through the processes of exploitation, racialization and domination. This legacy seeps into our stories and the ways in which relationship to land is framed, creating a group of those who have benefited from colonialism and those who have suffered consequences from its impacts.

It’s important to uncover the historical impacts of the land when doing initial research for your story in order to paint a more complete picture. Take place names for example: Who are these parks, trails, and cities named after and why? 

To Create a Story-Map

The first step in creating your story-map is to reflect on your relationship to land and place, and your relationship to the Indigenous people of that place. The second step is exploring the “dominant narrative” of the land while considering what is missing or potentially false from that narrative if anything. Lastly is piecing together the information you collect, using a mapping software or creating your own Google Map. 

This exercise is used to inspire a sense of accountability to ourselves, to our people, to those who came before us and to the land. How are we honoring the first peoples of this land? Or how do we honor our ancestors that have always been on this land? In what ways are we working to dismantle the perpetuation of colonialism in society? Finally, how are we working to engage in reciprocity and relational ways with our environment and society?

Resources

  • Google Maps 
  • An Anticolonial Land-Based Approach to Urban Place: Mobile Cartographic Stories by Refugee Youth by Michelle Bae-Dimitriadis
  • The Idea for “story mapping” was introduced by Dina Gilio-Whitaker, (Colville Confederated Tribes)  a current lecturer in American Indian Studies at Cal State San Marcos. Author of As Long as The Grass Grows

I am Sicangu Lakota and Ihanktonwan Nakota/Dakota and though I am far from my peoples homelands I still feel at home in my birthplace of Humboldt County. I am currently making my life in the San Francisco, Bay Area. Storytelling is my passion and I believe it can be a tool for
advocacy especially by prioritizing Queer, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices in media.