Digital mapping empowering for indigenous peoples or exploitation?

From the Argus Leader:

Google is inviting indigenous people across the world to take time Friday to add local geographic and commercial features to its online maps. The company, in partnership with the National Congress of American Indians, is making Friday its first ever Indigenous Mapping Day.

Google Map Maker
Google Map Maker. Source: Argus Leader

Participants must have a Google account to edit or add to maps represented on the popular Google Maps and Google Earth. Participants also must be affiliated with the tribe whose community they plan to map.

Many U.S. tribal communities lack accurate mapping of roads, buildings and other services available to tribal members or general public, said Sarah Beccio, a spokeswoman for the National Congress of American Indians.

“Basically, you can improve driving directions, enhance public safety, or put tribal businesses on the map,” she said. “Also, you can identify areas that maybe shouldn’t be on a map; for instance, a store in the wrong place.”

Edits to Google maps can be made anytime, but Google chose Friday in honor of the U.N. International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

The United States has more than 550 federally recognized tribes, some with reservations and some without tribal land. There are nine Sioux tribes in South Dakota, each with its own land.

Denise Mesteth, director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Land Office on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, said better digital maps for her tribe’s land might help local businesses.

“We want our businesses to get noticed,” she said. “Being able to find places to eat while on the road with an iPhone, and this is an opportunity for the tribe to get that advertising.”

But a Rosebud Sioux tribal official is uncomfortable with the effort. Paula Antoine, Sicangu Oyate Land Office coordinator for the Rosebud Sioux, said Google Earth, which shows archived photos of just about anywhere in the world, has images of Rosebud’s sacred sites, including where ceremonies are held.

“There’s a lot of things that shouldn’t be on there,” she said. “To me, it’s violating our space, our rights.”

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