We Weren’t Meant to Have Borders
Updated: Sep 23, 2022
The other day I broke the rule I set for myself and decided to scroll Instagram, which lately has resulted in more mental health lows than highs. Amid the scrolling, I inevitably came across a post that made my face hot with frustration. I’m sure the group posting it, an Instagram page claiming to be a Native support and meme page, was hoping to inspire or educate; their heart likely meant well. The post, however, was so far from educational, accurate or even an Indigenous worldview that my heart sank at the number of likes it had accrued.
So what is this post? Is it really so bad?
I wish I had screenshot it, but it was essentially intended to be a “map of North America prior to colonization” as they put it. On the photo was a map of Turtle Island, with no more than 40-50 Nations neatly sectioned off on this vast continent, exactly like European countries were at the time. The photo even had the entire area known as British Columbia listed as the Nation of Haida Gwai (spelled like that), but I think my ancestors of Tahltan Country would strongly disagree with that. In fact, the ancestors of 199 Nations outside of Haida Gwaii would disagree with that map of “British Columbia.”
So, not only are we looking at a map that has left out hundreds of Nations — again, there are at least 200 distinct First Nations cultures in what’s now called British Columbia alone — but we’re also blindly accepting a map that has absolutely no Indigenous worldview visible in. And, maybe you’re like, “but Jen, how could you even tell whether or not there’s an Indigenous worldview in a map?” I’m glad you asked. Let me explain two easy ways we can spot a colonial worldview despite this poster’s best intentions.
Obviously, there are hundreds of Nations left out. That’s completely unacceptable and shows no respect for the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island that the map itself or the map’s creator are trying to validate. There’s inadequate research, if any was done at all, and entire Peoples have been erased. Erasing Indigenous Peoples...sounds familiar, doesn't it. Regardless of if that was or wasn’t the intent, the damage is done with this photo and perpetuating false information. An Indigenous worldview would promote the slower method of ensuring all voices are included and the truth is told rather than a speedy false narrative put out to sway the public.
The lines on the map are distinct and clearly defined borders between the few Nations that they did list. THERE’S NO OVERLAP. That’s a huge problem. If you speak to anyone in Indigenous Governance who was working on Modern Treaties or Land Claims Agreements through the 1970s-1990s, one of the major issues you’ll hear come up is how the federal government forced Indigenous Nations to draw hard borders and divide up our Land because they didn’t believe in co-management or co-stewardship. Our Lands have ALWAYS overlapped and there’s a reason for that. We’ll discuss that shortly. Now, while I say this issue ended in the 1990s, it didn’t end but the status quo of hard lines was already in place by that point, so any current Modern Treaties proceed with that caveat or are otherwise rejected by the Federal government…or worse.
The Canadian government unilaterally decided that if we didn’t draw hard lines, any Land that fell into overlap would belong to them and fall under federal jurisdiction. In order to keep as much Land available to our Indigenous Nations, we drew hard lines and closed each other out. That’s not our Traditional way, and it never was.
The reliance upon the use of concrete borders in the photo might even be why the content creator chose to limit their Nations. It’s hard to say, maybe having fewer, larger Nations with concrete borders would seem arbitrarily more valid than the reality of having over a thousand distinct Nations working together to steward the Land. I don’t know who created the map, so I’ll likely never have an answer.
So what makes a map with "overlap" Indigenous and a map with concrete lines colonial? I mean, besides the fact that a colonial government imposed those rules upon us? Let’s take it back to worldviews.
In Indigenous worldviews, we were never meant to have borders. There is no such thing as Land ownership or the ability to own Land. Such human arrogance is absurd in Indigenous cultures. There is, however, a universal understanding that each Nation is of the Land and of the region they roam — that’s a keyword, “roam.” Prior to the violent introduction of the colonial laws and mindset, our Peoples were free and roamed across vast swathes of Land. But there’s a catch, our Peoples also knew that we were each put here by the Creator to steward those same Lands. We had to care for and protect the ecosystems while actively being a part of them. That’s A LOT of work!
Luckily, our worldviews are also informed by the tenet of Relationality. Obviously, this Relationality was between the Land and every Being in the ecosystems we were stewarding, but it was also between our Nation and the Nations we share the Land with. See, there was always the understanding that Land stewardship was the priority because when we take care of the Land, she takes care of us. So, the more hands involved in the care, the better the quality of care. The more people doing cultural burns to cool the rivers or fend off ticks or the more people harvesting trees who were ready for basket making, the more the Land has the capacity to activate and produce food for us. She’s healthier because of it.
What this means is that Nations went deep into each other’s territories, for Land stewardship and ceremony, knowing that generosity and Relationality with each other and the Land would always yield a more abundant life than scarcity and hard borders.
Maps like the one I saw in the Instagram post are the result of colonialism integrating a scarcity mindset into our daily lives. Even when we think we are doing well and taking down colonialism by calling it out, we are only enforcing its ideologies when we don’t take a hard look at the worldview we are approaching decolonization from. The colonial government’s main fear of Indigenous Peoples is that we are able to heal, stand together and work together because they know that together we’re unstoppable.
As we move into an era of decolonization and reclaiming Indigenous Governance, this concept of overlapping maps should once again be at the forefront of our conversations. We can no longer afford to support the colonial government's ideologies of concrete borders and scarcity mindsets. While they may have been necessary to sign their “deals” decades ago, they’re not necessary for us to continue in co-stewardship as we always have. If we accept the notion that borders are meant to be honoured, then we inevitably accept the colonial mindset and their colonial agenda of keeping us separated and weak. Can someone please tell me how we’re supposed to decolonize if we continue down that path?
For a REAL map of Nations and Languages on Turtle Island Visit