The Homelands Collection Story
Many Indigenous individuals in North America will affirm the position— The lands we held before the occupation of North America are still our lands. We recognize that we are no longer in control of them, but they are still our lands.
It’s a deeply personal, proud and unabashedly honest declaration regarding certain places of the Earth that First Peoples of North America maintain to this day. Individuals whose primary ancestry involves immigration to the Western Hemisphere during the past few centuries often fail to comprehend the Indigenous position at a deeper level because there exists a difference in viewing one’s existence with regard to place as either absolute or primary.
The beliefs and traditional stories of the Indigenous Peoples of North America demonstrate their perspective of living within the land they call home. Westerners usually express the view of living on the land that they occupy and typically save the word ‘home’ for a walled building in which they keep their personal possessions.
These two varying positions led to another essential and critical difference between the Indigenous Peoples and Westerners— Indigenous Peoples viewed themselves as being synchronous with their immediate surroundings. Their spiritual understandings, authorities, and important history were grounded within the region in which they would spend their lives. Though they understood the world reached far beyond their immediate one, the singular place that mattered to them was their territory of the Earth, what we are calling The Homeland.
Westerners viewed themselves as being a part of and belonging to distant powers— Their religious beliefs had origins in another part of the world; the authorities to which they were beholden existed at a faraway Capitol commanded by leaders they most likely never met; their preeminent history involved individuals and events who had been written about and perhaps studied but never observed.
While Indigenous Peoples of North America may have lost some or all control of their ancestral lands, they still identify it as being the source from which they emerged. The landscape, as much as their culture and relations, distinguishes them.
A map offers a framework for comprehending geographic regions and essentially represents all things within its boundaries, whether identified or not. While providing two dimensional concepts about the placement of land, water, and communities upon the Earth’s surface, a map’s inclusiveness means that we too are tacitly being depicted, whoever the ‘we’ might be.
The mass production of maps began with the Printing Press Revolution of the Renaissance. Subsequent cartographers often imbued artistic designs onto their work for the next three centuries. Printed on cloth-based ‘rag’ paper until 1800, the designs enhanced visual appeal in addition to providing knowledge about areas and locations. Somewhat coinciding with the change to wood pulp paper more than 200 years ago, the overall design of maps shifted from artisan enhanced to a more straightforward focus on geographic knowledge.
European explorers created and utilized maps of the Western Hemisphere for a number of reasons, including justification when initiating a conquest. Maps allowed the explorers to identify what they claimed as belonging to them and were asserting Supreme Authority over, along with planting a national flag and drawing up a deed. Subsequently, when long established Peoples declared prescient rights of dominion, one manner whereby Europeans dismissed them was by recognizing written documents—such as a map—over oral proclamations as the standard for ownership regarding disputed lands.
Some cartographers of Western Hemisphere maps reinforced this line of Western legalese logic by creating maps that altogether excluded the identification of Indigenous Peoples from the very lands they held at the time of the map’s creation. Other cartographers, however, took a broader, more inclusive approach. To varying degrees, this latter group attempted to account for, in addition to Western World communities and political land divisions, the Peoples who occupied the land for time immemorial and still controlled it as the map was being produced.
Today, when we look at antique maps, we can visualize actual moments in history by conceptualizing how and what was evolving. With an understanding that harsh conquests of those lands also occurred, a map might appear partisan rather than impartial, depending on the person viewing it.
The past forges an indelible history; there never can be an actual playing out of the ‘what if.’ With this collection, we attempt not to change the past but to offer a broader context about a singular matter regarding it— antique maps. Perhaps, a somewhat more rounded perspective emerges.
There isn’t some mold or definition that can account for all Indigenous individuals of North America today. They are if they identify as such and, in the United States at least, can also legally claim to be by showing tribal enrollment. If someone says they are one of the Indigenous Peoples of North America, there is no litmus test for gauging their Indigenous-ness nor how often they must associate with their people, culture, or traditional lands.
There are observable things, however, that begin to demonstrate which individuals most strongly embody their ancestry and culture— those who choose to live on their traditional lands; those who physically express themselves as such through their dress; those who participate in traditional ceremonies. For artists, it is those who will often produce works honoring their culture. Some individuals, of course, demonstrate all of these traits along with others not mentioned here.
The artists in this collection have a long and dedicated commitment to being Navajo or Inuit or Aztecan or one of the Peoples represented, and the artwork they produced through the years unquestionably reflects their cultural identities.
Each of the artists was asked to do these works due to being respected members of their tribe, first and foremost, and are darn good artists secondly. Some are known at the national level, others regionally. Male and female, youth and elder, we had no criteria for asking them beyond the fact that they embody their people in numerous ways.
Here, they offer narrative stories or figurative subjects on antique maps, maps that once showed their traditional Homelands during the former times. We sincerely hope that this would be a proper and regardful thing to ask them to consider doing. Their enthusiasm for it certainly seemed to say that it was.
The Homelands Collection
Native Americans created narrative art images on Western World documents beginning in the late 1800’s when they were offered closed out pages from ledger books for a drawing surface. Working on historic paper commenced in the early 1990’s when a few contemporary artists revived the practice of using pages from antique ledgers they had acquired.
On occasion during the past 30 years, some artists have used a few antique maps rather than ledger paper, with these works occurring in the spirit of contemporary ledger art. However, a show or exhibition featuring antique maps as the singular medium has not occurred.
Last year’s pandemic caused many of us to come to a halt. As the crisis unfolded, there wasn’t much we could do except restrict our activities. Hunkered down, opportunities for more thorough reflection occurred. For the owners of Raven Makes Gallery, a number of those moments concerned contemplating the suddenly unforeseeable future of Native American art.
In early May 2020, while surfing the Internet as our gallery stood closed by order of the Governor, we happened upon a fascinating 1860’s map of the Upper Great Plains that identified several tribes. The thought occurred, “Wouldn’t it be great if a ledger artist could make a work on this?” With more time to reflect, the notion wasn’t pushed aside as it might normally have been.
The proverbial light bulb burned dimly for a while but stayed on nonetheless. Three months later, that faint glow had become a bank of flood lights illuminating the concept of a significant collection of works on antique maps by Indigenous artists across North America. It was game on!
A plethora of learning, development, and logistics transpired, but given the pandemic slowdown, the timing was right. The one element we were unsure about— What might the artists’ reception be to working on these maps? They embraced it while stating positive perceptions about utilizing this challenging and thought provoking medium.
With that backstory, we are hope you enjoy the 3rd edition release of—
Click here to see The Homeland’s Collection.
Chris Morin and LaRita Chapman
Owners, Raven Makes Gallery